Alaskans are an independent lot. It’s really a huge part of our identity and perspective. As we age, we often experience threats to aspects of our independence that we may have taken for granted. That’s why we’re celebrating the spirit of independence and independent living throughout the month of July—to increase dialogue about ways to support senior independence.
People value their independence, admire it in others and generally respect other people’s right to it. But, what does it mean, particularly in the context of aging? We think it’s important to get specific about it with the seniors in your life, so that we can best honor their independence and help them maintain their sense of independence, as they get older.
For many elders, independence is a combination of maintaining personal identity and autonomy—meaning changes in day-to-day activities do not compromise their sense of who they are and they are able to continuously exercise control over the decisions made in relation to them. When it comes down to it, it has a lot to do with dignity.
For everyone really, independence is greatly expressed through our relationships with others. It’s not different for elders, but it’s definitely illustrated in the ability to sustain connections and maintain boundaries—to prevent dependency. Elders who are able to remain independent tend to:
- Keep in touch with family and friends
- Have rich relationships with their grandchildren and great grandchildren
- Know who can provide assistance to them and where to find assistance if needed
- Live in a neighborhood or community where they can interact with others at any time of day
- Participate in community and cultural events and organizations; volunteer
- Have hobbies, play sports and get involved in other group activities.
We all know that day-to-day physical activities have potential to become inhibited as we age. Independent seniors understand the value of adapting to these challenges and can do so by:
- Ensuring they have access to physical support services when they need them.
- Acknowledging, with confidence, when they need help and asking for that help—whether with cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.
- Maintaining their driving skills or arranging reliable transportation options.
- Being diligent about their physical and mental health, by keeping fit, eating well, visiting doctors regularly and communicating with loved ones about how they feel.
Often times, people equate aging with helplessness—which, for most, is more of a misconception than a reality. Maintaining self-reliance serves the important role of helping elders and their families to remember how capable they really are—and the more they can do for themselves (within reason) the longer they will remain independent. Self-reliant seniors are:
- Well informed about decisions they need to make for their future and are comfortable making those decisions.
- Interested in maintaining separate priorities from those whom they are close too—even if they have shared interests.
- Able to fill distinct roles and meet their commitments and responsibilities.
- Socially active.
- Committed to maintaining their standards—whether its cleanliness in the home or quality of interactions with others.
- Strong and confident enough to ask for help when they need it.
- Self-confident, secure and feel safe, day-to-day.
- Able to do things on their own without worrying others.
Take some time to share these ideas with your elder loved ones and discuss how to help them cultivate these qualities in their lives.