BY NORBERT RUG
I recently was able to drive my car again after a whole winter of not driving. I can’t tell you how liberating it was to get behind the wheel once again. I was holed up in my house for so long it was starting to feel like I was in jail. The times I did leave my house during the winter, primarily for medical appointments, I was chauffeured wherever I needed to go.
There are a few reasons for me not driving, my meds required I remain at home and I had no snow tires on my car. My car is also built very low to the ground so I would have been plowing the roads when I drove.
When I got in my car it just didn’t feel right. I could barely get in it. You see, I had loaned it to other people so now I had to adjust the seat and mirrors until it felt comfortable again. Finally, I was ready to drive. I turned the key and heard the familiar rumble and felt the vibrations I had almost forgotten.
At my age, I make every effort to preserve and enjoy my independence. From the day we are born, our parents teach us how to care for ourselves. We then start teaching our own children the importance of doing things like eating by themselves and tying their own shoes to learning how to drive.
The desire to be self-sufficient does not lessen as we age. If anything, it becomes more important to seniors. One of my greatest fears is the loss of freedom. This is the reason why we had an on-suite bedroom built off the back of our home so I could maintain my independent lifestyle in my own home.
Not having to rely on others is very important to me. At times it feels like the only thing I can control. Preserving my independence also gives me a feeling of self-worth and well-being. Just being independent makes me feel better.
Often, seniors can live by themselves with little or no help. However, some seniors may need help due to the physical limitations that can come with aging. Living at home should not become a lost cause, however. Home health care companies can assist seniors to hang onto their self-sufficiency for as long as possible. Caregivers can assist seniors by helping them to perform the activities of daily living, like grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking and the things that will allow seniors to live at their own home.
There are many things seniors can do to help maintain their independence. I have grab bars installed in our bathrooms and even have an elevated toilet in one of them. I also use a cane to help with my balance. Actually, I have 3 canes. One with a tripod base that I use around the house during the day. I also have a 4 footed cane with a headlight on it for me to use around the home at night. My third cane is my going out cane with a curved shaft and a brass grip.
Another way I have tried to maintain my autonomy is I had a wooden box built for my recliner to elevate the chair. I felt like I was sitting in a hole before and it was very difficult to get out of my chair. With the box, it is easier to get up.
While it’s important to have a discussion before it’s too late, many well-intentioned families react too early to the symptoms of aging and try to reduce a senior’s freedom too soon. Before you assume control of your mom’s financial life or move dad into a nursing home, be sure you know the effect this will have on them. Losing independence can produce emotions like anger, fear, guilt, and depression, according to the National Institute of Health.
The most distressing outcome of taking away a senior’s independence is how it can influence their health and overall feeling of well-being. We expect that dad will be unhappy when we take away his car keys and we ought to expect mom to put up a fuss when we propose an in-home caregiver, but it’s the long term consequences of this hard transitional period that are the issues.
I know it might be hard to justify an elderly adult’s need for self-reliance and the need to keep them safe and healthy, but you have to remember that reduced freedom can actually lead to physical and emotional problems.
The need to go places does not stop with aging, just the places we go changes. The elderly no longer have to go to work but are seeing an increasing number of health care professionals. The challenge families face is how to provide the elderly with the independence they have enjoyed throughout their lives without feeling overbearing. I purpose that the state retest seniors driving skills periodically so the family will not have to be involved in the decision whether they drive or not. At least this choice would be removed from their burden of caring for their older relatives.
Norb is a WNY writer who has seen a lot of water go over the falls. He does not consider himself old, he considers himself well aged like a fine wine.