Cher Haack: Seniors lose vitality when they lose independence
July 20, 2013
No matter what our age, losing some of our independence is devastating. As we age, it's often a family member who takes away some of that independence, which can lead to arguments and even serious health concerns.
Many of you know what I mean. You might have taken over Mom or Dad's bank account and now pay their bills. Maybe you now manage their medication; you might be considering bringing in a caregiver or even moving them out of their home.
Unless Mom and Dad are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease, moving them and taking away certain daily tasks might not be the best idea.
When you start taking away freedoms, life often becomes stressful for all. Mom and Dad don't want to leave their home; they might have pets to care for, a garden to tend to, cleaning tasks or home repairs. If you take those tasks away, you are taking away one of the reasons they get up every morning.
What you can do to help: Visit more often and try and help with the garden. Hire a housekeeper. Help with home repairs. The key word here: help. Let them make most of the decisions. Make sure they still have their own jobs to do.
Medications: If you feel you need to help with your parents' medications, consider this: you are sending the message that you think they are not competent enough to take them anymore. Keep in mind that there is a difference between forgetting blood-pressure medications and a multivitamin. Try setting up their medications in a weekly pill container. This is less confusing for them than having several pill bottles to keep track of. Also, if you keep the bottles yourself and only leave them the weekly container, there is less risk of medication errors. There also are pill containers with alarm reminders, as well as locking systems to prevent overdose. Some have blinking lights as a reminder. Talk to your pharmacist about this.
Pets: A big concern I've learned of while working with elders for so long is that taking away their beloved pets is detrimental. This is why we allow elders to bring their pets at The Lodge when they move in. They need that companionship, love and the ability to still care for the pets.
If need be, hire someone to come pick up after Mom and Dad's dog or cat. Grandkids also could help clean up and take the dog for a walk. If Mom or Dad is forgetting to feed the pets regularly, you can purchase large automatic feeders and water containers.
Caring for an aging parent isn't easy; it's tempting to take over many daily tasks. Remember, when you take away their independence, you take away their dignity, pride and quality of life. You will notice they start having low expectations of their abilities and performance. You might notice their memory is not as good as it used to be, they under-rate their abilities, there is reduced will to live and thrive; you may notice a difference in their health.
Independence is one of the most important attributes a person can possess. Do all you can to encourage independence of an elderly person in your care. Once people lose their independence, they often lose the will to live.
Cher Haack is the executive director of The Lodge Assisted Living Facility in Carson City.