In-home caregivers celebrate independence every day. In fact, perhaps members of no other profession appreciate the importance of personal independence more than those who support the dignity of seniors hoping to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.
But what is independence when it comes to aging in place? It means preserving the essential elements of an independent lifestyle with just as much as – but never more than – the individual needs to maintain independence.
What does your loved one need to ensure that they’re eating healthy meals? That the food is wholesome and fresh? Are there sufficient reserves to maintain that healthy diet in the event an illness or weather conditions prevent a trip to the grocery.
How regularly do they see their health care provider? How quickly could he or she get an appointment for an acute condition? Have all medications been explained clearly and understood? Are you satisfied that all prescription and over-the-counter drugs are being taken as directed and on schedule?
We recently discussed preventing household accidents, but to reiterate: Have you checked the house for tripping hazards? Is the path to any outside parts of the home, like the mailbox, clear of obstructions?
Are smoke, fire and carbon monoxide alarms properly installed and in working order? Are door and window locks up to standard? Is the air conditioning in proper working order so window locks can be used even when it’s brutally hot outside? Are there neighbors who know your loved one sufficiently to tell if there are signs of trouble?
How does you loved one get around when going to appointments or running errands? Has anyone been a passenger in their car to verify their driving acuity? Is public transportation available, reliable and safe? Is there a back-up plan for late-night or particularly long trips?
People are social animals. Even the most introverted loners need some level of regular interpersonal contact. Can your loved one get out to church or social gatherings? Is he or she in regular contact with family and friends? In-person contact always is preferable, but modern technology allows a range of video and photo-sharing options along with the standard regular phone call.
Keeping the mind active and engaged is one of the most effective ways to keep older people alert and to combat boredom and loneliness. Knitting and pottery aren’t for everybody, of course, but other activities can be just as effective. Writing, completing jigsaw puzzles, playing or even listening to music can inspire memories and enrich our lives at any stage of life.
We treasure our own independence and that guides our understanding of what older people want and need from continuing to live in their own space. By ensuring we offer our loved ones support—where needed—without crowding them or taking away their ability to act on their own behalf—we protect and honor what they cherish—their independence.