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Top Tips to Help Aging & Ailing Family Members- October 2013
October 24, 2013

Fostering Independence

Much has been published about how to have tough conversations with family members about changes that limit their independence like having a caregiver come into the home or giving up driving. No doubt there are times when these painful conversations must take place.

I’d like to turn this situation upside down and discuss the question of how we can foster independence for family members, we are caring for.

Here are five suggestions:

Create an environment that is safe and allows independence at your family member’s level of physical ability. There are public and private agencies that will do home safety reviews and in some cases, complete improvements that create more safety and access for your family member.

Provide alternatives when an activity becomes unsafe and help your family member choose the best fit for their needs. In the case when a family member has been advised to give up driving, you can identify other options such as taking public or para transit, using cabs or car services. Help them plan out specifically how they will attend activities and events that they normally participate in.

Allow for extra time when completing activities. We are all feel time crunched these days. Rushing to complete activities may mean that you are tempted to jump in and help your family member when it takes them longer to complete a task than it would take you to complete it. Regularly jumping in is demoralizing for your family member and undermines their independence. Check your hurry-up attitude at the door.

Have an open minded conversation about what is changing in your family member’s life and what they want to do about it. Too often we rush to solutions without understanding the facts and feelings of everyone involved. Take your time over a series of conversations where both of you discuss what you see as changing or being more challenging and what if anything you both will do to change things. Be cautious about imposing your opinions over those of your family member.

If your family member is suffering from dementia, you are already filling in the gaps. Breaking down tasks into small parts can help your family member have the satisfaction of completing tasks and keep them more independent.

Fostering independence helps your family member and you as the caregiver. Help your family member feel greater self-esteem through participation and control in their daily life. Help yourself by only taking on activities that your family member can truly no longer do.

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