Living independently means different things to different people. For some people it might mean living alone, without a companion or family member; to others it might mean living with family instead of moving into a nursing home or assisted living facility; and still others consider themselves to be independent as long as they continue to live in their own home, even if they require some type of assistance to manage activities of daily living such as bathing and grooming.
“I believe the goal for everyone as we age is to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible,” said Amy Goyer, AARP’s Family and Caregiving Expert. “If an older adult needs some assistance that doesn’t mean they can’t have any independence. Independence motivates us and keeps us stimulated and interacting and making choices about our lives. It’s an important aspect of quality of life.”
For family caregivers who have a loved one living independently, they can support them with meaningful shared activities and true companionship.
“When older adults need some assistance, it’s critical that any support or care that is brought in keep this goal in mind,” said Ms. Goyer. “Having independence is vital to both our physical and mental health and quality of life. You can look at it this way: as we age and our skills and abilities change, it might be easy to fall into the trap of taking one change to mean all independence is lost. Instead, look at it as focusing on the things that can be done independently still. It’s a strengths-based approach rather than a problem-based approach.”
Independence Focused on Abilities
One example of this “strengths-based approach” or focus on one’s abilities can be a care plan for someone who requires assistance. The care plan can take into account that person’s likes and dislikes, not just list their medications and treatments.
Ms. Goyer used the example of someone who can no longer drive and how that might affect independence. “That doesn’t mean they have to be isolated and stuck in their house,” she said. “It simply means they have to adapt the way they can navigate the world. Their independence may mean they make choices around how they will get around. They may need a ride to the store but can still do their shopping independently. They may even just shop online and be able to do that independently have their groceries delivered. They may still be able to walk to a store independently. In other words, losing one skill or ability doesn’t mean you’ve lost all your independence.”
Ms. Goyer also talked about how her mother, who passed away last year, needed a great deal of help getting dressed near the end of her life. “She couldn’t manage it all independently,” she said. “But I made sure she always had the opportunity to make choices about the clothes and jewelry she wore—she could do that independently.”
Consider what it means to be independent to your loved ones today and how you can help maintain that important quality of life with them and for them.