Do you encourage elder independence or dependence?
The most common mistake most care partners make is doing things for their aging family member that can be done for themselves. It is so important to understand, people like to help themselves. Every time you do something for your aging family member that they could have done alone, you experience two losses. First, you wasted your time and energy unnecessarily. Second, your family member has lost an opportunity to help him- or herself, maintain their independence and sense of well being.
As a care partner, your goal is to give your aging family member the power and the permission to control his or her life (as much as possible). A care partner must view every act your aging family member takes to maintain their independence is a victory for you as a care partner.Allowing your family member to do some tasks may take patience, because they are slow or clumsy. Your patience will pay off.
Here are some things you can do to encourage your aging family member to maintain their elder independence:
- Allow your family member to do as much as possible for as long as possible. Expect them to reman independent. They will respond to your expectations as long as cognitively possible . Expect your family member to get dressed, even if it is you standing by to supervise or encourage, work in the garden, or cook/microwave simple meals.
- As dementia progresses, help simplify a task. For example, you may have to remind to get the toothbrush from the holder, put the toothpaste on the brush etc. Break down complex tasks into small parts.
- Investigate and explore things that may make a task easier. It may be a modification to the home or a piece of adaptive equipment that will allow them to do something with out supervision.
- Be patient, be tolerant of mistakes or less-than-perfect results.The goal is to give your family member with dementia a sense of well being and success. Imperfect is acceptable. The function they can do today, may be lost tomorrow, so be grateful the abilities they still have. Encourage and empower your family member to feel good about doing things independently.
- Allow your aging family member to make as many decisions as possible. As dementia progresses, you may have to limit to one or two options when you give choices as to what to wear or what to eat. Help your aging family retain as much control as possible for as long as possible.
- Practice habilitation and match the tasks your aging family member preforms with their strengths and present abilities.
- Match tasks with abilities. Identify the person’s skills, and try to match them with tasks that the person can do independently.
- Accept that you cannot eliminate all risks. That means there are times when something may get broken or get a few cuts or bruises. This can be a small price to pay for allowing someone to explore and maintain their independence. .If you eliminate all the risks you eliminate all the opportunities, as well.