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Although a loss of independence is a natural part of aging, coping with it does not often come easily.  Studies have shown that many older adults fear losing independence more than they fear death.  But it’s worth noting that becoming more dependent on others is a fact of aging and not a mark of failure or even an indicator of impending mortality.  There are several ways to cope with losing independence, whether you’re beginning to experience it yourself or want to help a loved one transition through the process.

A loss of independence can be due to physical or mental changes in an individual.  To understand what an older adult feels as they experience less independence, it’s important to consider what changes are occurring and what they are losing.  As we age, mobility decreases, making everyday activities like driving or walking more challenging.  It can be alarming when one’s body no longer works like it used to. The aging process may bring a loss of sight or hearing, difficulty walking, difficulty completing daily chores, loss of flexibility, or a general decrease in energy.  These physical changes can affect a person’s  confidence and self-worth.  Their social life can also be impacted as they find it more challenging to go see friends or take part in recreational activities. These changes can often result in sadness or depression.

If You Are Experiencing a Loss of Independence
If you have begun noticing that once-easy tasks and activities are becoming harder for you, know that you’re not alone.  These changes are perfectly natural, and so are the emotions they may bring.  Feeling  anger, frustration, vulnerability, and fear are perfectly natural.  However, feelings of guilt or shame are unwarranted and shouldn’t be driving your actions or decisions.  You will need to ask for help, and that is okay.

Asking for help can be humbling and uncomfortable at first, but it should become easier the more you do it.  Just know that the loved ones in your life would prefer you ask for help instead of taking on a task that could cause injury or harm. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it, and every individual will experience a need for help at some point in his/her life.

Try to be open to the advice of others.  If your loved ones are suggesting that you need a walk-in bathtub, a stair lift, in-home care, or senior living arrangements, try to keep an open mind and give their suggestions consideration.  If these suggestions are coming from people who truly care for you, then you know they have your best interest at heart.

If you’re finding it hard to cope with the physical, mental, or emotional changes you may be experiencing, be honest and talk with someone.  Your family, caregivers, and friends want what’s best for you but won’t know how to effectively support you if you don’t voice your needs or concerns.  

Supporting Someone Experiencing a Loss of Independence
A loss of independence is one of the most difficult parts of life for anyone to experience.  Perhaps the most important thing you can do to support your loved one is to approach the subject with patience.   People can react to losing independence in different ways, whether it be with frustration, irritability, or sadness.  It takes time to process the changes that are happening, so be patient with your loved one as they adjust to this new reality.

If your loved one has become more isolated due to mobility issues, help them get out of the house.  Taking them to see friends or family, or even just going for a drive can help lift their spirits.  

Keep the lines of communication open and ask them often how they are feeling about the losses they are experiencing.  Be an active listener and give them space to talk.  Even if you think your words and actions are helping, you won’t know until you give them opportunity to express their concerns.  

Trying to support someone who is losing their independence can be emotionally and physically draining, so be sure to practice self-care.  If your schedule or energy doesn’t allow you to take on more of a caretaker role, seek out in-home care, respite care, or senior living options for your loved one.  If in-home care or a senior living community would be best for your loved one, communicate these suggestions to them with empathy.  Include them in the process and make it clear that any suggestions you have are made with their best interest in mind.  

Facing a loss of independence is a reality we all must experience.  But if you have loved ones or a caring senior living community to support you through the transition, losing independence does not have to keep you down.  Life with less independence may look different, but it can still be a fulfilling and beautiful journey.  

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