How Loss of Independence Impacts Older Adult's Health & Well-Being
A growing portion of our country’s population – the eldest – is quietly suffering because of the independence they have lost. The side effects of limiting the freedom and dignity of seniors are serious, but are often left unconsidered when a loved ones safety on the road or in their own home is at stake.
At True Link, we want to bring awareness to the physical and emotional impacts that diminished independence can have on older adults. We’ll look at how and why independence can be lost and what can be done to help your loved ones preserve their dignity.
How diminished independence can impact well-being.
The most important – and troubling – effect of taking away a senior’s independence is how it can impact their health and overall well-being. We expect dad to be unhappy when we take away his keys and mom to protest when we suggest an in-home caregiver, but it’s the longer-term implications of this difficult transition period that are the issue.
A loss of independence can trigger a number of emotions like anger, fear, guilt, and depression. According to the NIH:
We suggest that a common pathway to depression in older adults, regardless of which predisposing risks are most prominent, may be curtailment of daily activities… Social support that is perceived as excessive or unhelpful may be a risk factor for depression. Increased levels of depressive symptoms associated with the receipt of social support have been found among older adults with physical limitations who endorsed a greater desire for independence.
Depression in seniors is largely misunderstood as a normal part of aging, but that is not the case. Failure to treat it can result in a host of other health problems, according to the CDC:
“Depression complicates chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke; increases health care costs; and is tied to higher mortality from suicide and cardiac disease.”
It is important to recognize the depression cues in older adults before they become a more serious problem and, when possible, take steps to identify and avoid triggers like a loss of independence.
What leads to diminished independence.
As we get older, there are a number of factors that can lead to diminished independence. Here are three common examples:
- Bad falls: According to the Cleveland Clinic, a fall marks one of the greatest points of risk for a loss in independence amongst older adults. A decline in the ability to move can lead to a decline in the ability to perform daily activities, increased reliance on others for assistance, and increased risk of social isolation. Unfortunately, once a senior suffers a fall that leads to hospitalization, their recovery often leads to increased frailty and deconditioning of muscles which can result in more falls and further decreases in independent living. In the Oxford Journal, falls have been linked to depression in older adults.
- Chronic pain: The NIH reports that more than half of all seniors who live at home are dealing with chronic pain, which can lead to a decline in health and independence. And while it’s not surprising to hear that chronic pain leads to depression, finding a way to preserve some independence can fight off depression and keep the pain from worsening.
- Nervous relatives: While it’s important to have tough conversations with aging parents and elderly loved ones before it’s too late, many well-meaning relatives overreact to initial warning signs and limit independence more than is necessary. Before you take over mom’s financial life or move dad into a home, make sure you understand the severity of the situation and react accordingly.
What can be done to preserve independence?
While your aging parents may not be in a position to do everything on their own, you want to make sure they have as much independence as possible to keep them happy and healthy for as long as possible. Here are some ways to support their freedom:
- Tech solutions: We’ve written before about how technology can give your loved one independence while providing you with peace of mind. The advancements in this arena continue to take off! From enhanced emergency alert systems to medication monitoring to money management with a True Link Card, seniors, and those who care for them, can benefit from a solution that meets the whole family’s needs.
- Interactive caregiving: If an older adult needs the help of a caregiver, the type of care they receive can impact how independent they feel. Instead of a caregiver doing everything for their care recipient, they should do some things alongside their care recipient, whether that’s writing a grocery list, planting flowers, or taking a walk around the block. Interactive caregivers should also make an effort to engage seniors in their favorite activities and hobbies which can help aging adults maintain a sense of self.
- NOT staying home: While staying in their own home is a goal for many seniors, in some cases (according to the New York Times) doing so can actually diminish independence. Being homebound, without the ability to engage with other people and live life as they used to, can be detrimental to these older adults. It’s important to consider whether doing everything to help a loved one stay at home is really best for their well-being.
It can be difficult to balance an older adult’s need for independence as they age with the desire to keep them safe and healthy. But when it’s understood that diminished independence can lead to emotional and physical problems, these two points of view can become more aligned.