Four Ways to Help a Loved One Maintain Independence and a Sense of Control

If you provide caregiving for an elderly parent, you may find it a struggle to keep a balance between doing too much for them and not doing enough. This dilemma is complicated because while you may think you’re being loving and providing help, your parent might feel like you are squelching their independence. It’s important always to remember that although old age is often referred to as a “second childhood,” that is not how it appears from the point of view of our parents.

One of the overwhelming needs that human beings feel as they enter into and advance in their senior years is a need for control, according to David Solie, author of the book, Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders. Solie says that the overwhelming feelings of loss that we feel as we reach old age create a need to “hang on tight” to whatever we can. That theory would seem to explain why older adults so often fight ferociously to stay in their homes and if forced to leave, would prefer to go into an assisted living home than to move in with family. They don’t want to give away control over their lives.

If you want to help your parent to be a happy and contented senior, let them do whatever they are able to do for themselves. Don’t be tempted to take over too much in their lives. Figuring out the right amount of support to give is key. But how can we do that? The American Association of Retired People (AARP) provides some advice on helping loved ones stay independent and keep a sense of control over their lives in their book AARP Meditations for Caregivers.


1. Communicate and plan

Take the time to talk about your parent’s preferences for the future. What sort of help would they welcome and what would they consider to be interference? How might he or she want to handle declines in physical abilities or memory? If you never discuss it, how can you be expected to know the best way to help?


2. Proceed slowly

If your parent experiences a setback in their health, don’t leap in and implement significant changes in their life in the spirit of providing assistance. Help out a little bit at a time (within reason) and see how your loved one reacts. Remember while you may feel as though you are providing much-needed help, your parent may feel like you are taking some of their freedom and control away.


3. Help a proud, independent parent maintain their morale

Try to help your loved one focus on their strengths and what they can do. The AARP gives examples of a parent who may not have good enough eyesight anymore to write letters, but they talk on the phone with ease. Take enjoyment in listening to old stories if your parent doesn’t have the short-term memory to speak about what’s happening today.


4. Present assistance as empowerment.

If your parent is stubbornly refusing help or is resentful of the help you do provide, remind them you are just trying to help him or her live as well as possible as they age. Just like someone uses a walking stick to walk to where they want to go, you are there to give support to help your parent live the life they want.



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