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Challenges to Independence in Senior Years: Home Care Can Help

Home care worker preparing a casserole

Fourth of July fireworks and parades remind Americans of our traditional values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As we grow older, we may think about these ideals in a more complex way. For example, life: When the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, the average life expectancy was 35 years. Today, many Americans live well into their 90th year and beyond.

Are seniors also pursuing happiness? A poll in the February 2011 issue of Caring Right at Home asked readers about their attitude. Thirty-seven percent reported feeling happier than when they were younger, with another 13 percent reporting feeling about the same. Studies confirm that our later years can be a time of fulfillment.

And what about liberty? For many seniors, this is the greatest challenge. Traditionally, Americans value independence. When we are young, we can’t wait to grow up and have more control over our lives. Later, we struggle with our teenagers over issues of autonomy and parental control. And in our old age, the tables may be turned again when our adult children have ideas about our care and safety that go against our wishes.

Most seniors, even if they face sensory, mobility or cognitive impairment, wish to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. But even though we usually think of autonomy as meaning acting alone, professional home care providers affirm an interesting paradox: When seniors receive help with tasks they can’t do, their sense of independence is increased. Here are some typical and common challenges seniors have faced and the innovative solutions home care offers:

The challenge: Julia lives in a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). She suffered a stroke last year and needs more help than is available in her community’s independent living setting. She loves her apartment, and since she is making steady progress in her recovery, she doesn’t wish to move into the CCRC's assisted living area.

The solution: An in-home caregiver can provide the extra measure of assistance senior living residents need on a temporary or long-term basis. This is also an excellent choice when one spouse needs more individualized care than the other, but the couple wishes to stay together in the same setting.

The challenge: Betty has age-related macular degeneration. Last year she had to give up driving. Her neighborhood isn’t well-served by public transportation, and she hates to impose on neighbors for a ride to shops and her volunteer activities. She found herself feeling isolated and depressed. Giving up choices was hard for this active senior!

The solution: Though Betty originally hired a part-time in-home caregiver to help with housekeeping and personal tasks, she quickly discovered, to her delight, that in-home care isn't only provided in the home. Now she goes on outings to the mall, the grocery store, to visit friends, to the Girl Scout troop where she volunteers and to the theater. Betty says, "I love the sense that I've regained my freedom!"

The challenge: Murray has Parkinson's disease and is dealing with incontinence. His wife Lily helps out as best she can, but she has health issues of her own. Their adult children reassure him, "It's our turn to take care of you, Dad!" But Murray’s self-esteem has taken a blow. He feels like a child when he must rely on his wife and children for personal tasks—especially bathing and incontinence care.

The solution: Even in families where parents and children describe each other as "best friends," hands-on care tasks can tax the family dynamic. The solution for this family was to consult with a professional home care provider to locate just the right caregiver. Murray says of the caregiver, "I don't feel bad having Jacob helping me out! It is his career." Jacob assures Murray, "Don’t worry about a thing, Mr. Levin! It's my job. This is what I do." When Murray’s adult children visit, the family now spends their time engaged in activities they enjoy.

The challenge: Calvin has early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, and his wife Deborah worries about whether he is safe while she is at work. Calvin bristles at her well-intentioned interference, erupts frequently in frustrated anger, and often hangs up on other family members when they make suggestions about his well-being at home.

The solution: People with memory loss don’t lose their need for autonomy. They also have the right to make their own decisions, unless they have been ruled incompetent. An in-home caregiver can provide the appropriate amount of watchful supervision. Cal's wife and family worked with an agency that has expertise in dementia care. The carefully selected caregiver utilizes creative strategies to keep Cal safe while preserving his sense of dignity.

The past few decades have seen a revolution in the way we think about elder care, with a new emphasis on person-centered care that supports the independence of Americans of every age. In-home care is a great resource to help achieve this goal.

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Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care services. 


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