Something that we at CHSLC have realized over the years is that older adults often don’t think of themselves as “old.” Even those who are technically senior citizens – even some in their 90s – still consider themselves competent adults. And why shouldn’t they? Age is just a number; what matters is how you feel.
Sometimes, though, older adults do require assistance and it can be difficult for them to acknowledge that. The aging process can lead to feelings of fear and loss of personal worth. We associate aging with a number of undesirable characteristics – confusion, dependence, forgetfulness. It’s no wonder seniors don’t want to be thought of as old.
There are things we can do as family members and caregivers of aging adults to preserve their dignity as they age. No one wants to be told how to live their life, and no one wants to be told that they need to accept help. But sometimes, just treating the elderly with respect and autonomy can help them see that accepting a little bit of help goes a long way to preserving their independence.
Listen to them. Really listen. The simple act of paying attention does wonders. Even if your loved one suffers from cognitive impairment, paying attention to the small details and offering compassion and patience will make their day.
Get to know them. Don’t assume your loved one needs help. Observe how they’re doing, what they’re capable of and what they’re having trouble with. This will help you figure out what form of assistance you should offer.
Don’t give advice unless it’s asked for. It’s easy to slip into a “protective” role when you care for someone else. You want what’s best for them. But the parent-child role reversal can be hard on aging parents, so accepting advice from a child – albeit an adult child – might not go over well. It’s best to let an outside person be the advisor. You can still encourage and offer support without offering advice.
Ask for their opinions. Include them in the conversation. Don’t talk about them as if they’re not there. Accept that you may have differences of opinions but discuss all sides and try to come to a decision together when possible.
Respect their right to make choices. By making choices we have some sense of control over our lives. Unless your loved one has severe cognitive impairment and can’t make their own choices, involve them in as many choices as possible. Even simple choices, like when to eat and what to wear, contribute to their feelings of independence.
Speak distinctly but don’t condescend. Some seniors don’t like to admit that they cannot hear or understand the conversation around them. Try to talk louder but in a gentle, matter-of-fact way, keeping sentences short and simple. But be careful not to speak to them like a child. Patronizing is a sure way to result in disagreement.
All of our services at Community Home Support Lanark County can contribute to the well-being and independence of aging loved ones. Take some time to visit us with your loved one to discuss how our services could be of value.