The Art of Independence in Senior Living ~ I am independent, right?
This has been the question posed to me repeatedly in my eight years in the senior retirement industry. Regardless of whether the individual was entering independent living, assisted living or even sometimes, memory care, they have always been focused on whether others perceive them as independent.
I have always chosen to respond to their question with one of my own, “Do you make decisions that are in your best interest?”. If they answer positively, then I always tell them “Yes, you are independent.” Sometimes, this can elicit a strange reaction from their accompanying family members. After all, how can someone who needs help bathing or toileting be independent? To answer this, one must first understand what being independent is and what it is not.
Independence is not a task. Rather, independence is the ability of a person to make decisions that are in their best interest physically and mentally.
Independence is the ability of a person to make decisions that are in their best interest physically and mentally.
In all of the communities in which I have worked, we offered the Big 3: Meals, Housekeeping and Transportation. It just so happens that these are the top three items that seniors equate with being independent. How often have you heard from a prospective resident, “well, I still cook” or “I can clean my own home” or one of my all-time favorites, “when I can no longer drive, I’ll think about moving in”. The fact is these three tasks in no way equate to our independence. The wealthiest people in our country who are fortunate enough to have chefs, housekeepers and chauffeurs are totally independent. They simply hire out the services.
When holding a conversation with one of my prospective residents, I explain to them that no matter what the service, lawn maintenance, plumbing, electrical work or care services, an individual can maintain their independence by making solid decisions.
No matter what the service, lawn maintenance, plumbing, electrical work or care services, an individual can maintain their independence by making solid decisions
One example that I have provided during discussions with prospective residents and their families is that if you wake up and your hands hurt so much that you have trouble tying your shoes, a good decision would be to have someone help you tie those shoes. The decision to ask for help is an intelligent one and shows that the person making that decision knows what they are doing. In essence they are maintaining their independence by getting help.
On the other hand, if that person refuses to ask for help and by so doing, they walk around with untied shoes and put themselves at risk for falling and causing more problems for themselves, then they are demonstrating poor decision-making ability. They open themselves up to someone else needing to make the right decision for them and they lose their independence.
In order to help seniors, maintain their independence and get them over the concept that everything hinges on a “task”, we must start educating our teams to empower seniors to make the right decisions and not continually tell their future residents that they are in any way impaired and needing “assistance”. What they need to is to logically choose, as they have done their whole lives, to purchase those services that will help them to maintain their independence and perform their daily tasks. These services may come in the form of a chef prepared meal or a person standing by when they shower to see that they do not fall.
Take time to promote independence and less time in trying to convince your prospective residents that they need care. We all wish to be independent and the only one who can take that away from us, is ourselves.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Hurwitz is an Executive Director at Osprey Lodge, a charming and beautiful Florida Lodge with modern amenities similar to a cruise ship. With diverse experience in Retirement Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care, he has been successfully supporting ten communities in four states as the Regional Director of Sales & Marketing.