Encouraging Independence in Older Adults


Article Categories: Basic Skills & Activities of Daily Living



Caring for older adults is a challenge and a privilege for nursing assistants. Helping older adults when they need assistance is a hefty task. Oftentimes, CNAs must see the fine line between doing things for the older patient and encouraging them to be independent to create a balance. CNAs must make sure that their patients receive proper care, and still safely carry on with activities of daily living.

What is independence and how important is it for older patients?

Being independent is having full control of one’s life, including being able to make decisions and do things on one’s own. Independence is inherent to human beings. It is essential to achieve happiness and to feel fulfilled. In a random interview of older adults, a respondent named Irma says, “[Independence] is everything. It’s so important.”

Independence is important in older patients because it preserves their dignity. They feel good about themselves if they can do things that they like. It also gives them a sense of purpose, which is good for their mental health. It also promotes physical exercise and preserves bodily functions.

To understand how older people value independence, consider this: Most older patients were once able-bodied individuals who enjoyed their freedom moving about, going places, and doing the things they love. They were all achievers when they were younger. When they get sickly and weak in their later years, the things that they cannot do keep piling up. And with their loss of independence, goes also their self-esteem.

As a CNA, you can help them have the quality of life they deserve. Here are some tips to guide you:

1. Make your older patients part of the healthcare team.

Older patients appreciate a sense of control in their own health. You can help older patients in this regard by listening to them and including them in conversations. Give them choices. Even confused patients can choose between two sets of clothes. Allow older patients to teach you, like how to make their favorite tea. It might also be interesting to ask for the recipe for their signature dish.

2. Make adaptations in an older patient’s environment.

Use adaptive equipment whereby possible to keep them safe while being independent. Adaptive equipment are devices that are used to help with performing activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, and grooming.

a. Put a shower chair in the bathroom if they have an arm or leg weakness.

b. A buttonhook is great for those with arthritis, hand tremors, or uncoordinated arm movements. This device can be used to fasten their clothes with buttons.

c. Use raised toilet seats for those with difficulty sitting down from a standing position or those with standing up from a sitting position.

d. Provide adaptive utensils such as finger spoons and forks.

e. Keep frequently used items within easy reach. Avoid putting daily supplies in high cupboards or low cabinets.

3. Have older patients use remote controls.

These technological wonders can give them the choice of what to watch on TV or music to play. Thermostat remote controls allow them to set the room temperature to a comfortable level.

4. Help older patients use electronic devices such as tablets and mobile phones.

Aren’t we glad these inventions exist? With gadgets that are connected to the internet, older patients can watch the news, connect with friends and family, look for information online, and much more.

5. Keep your older patient’s assistive devices, such as canes and walkers as well as their eyewear and hearing aids accessible.

These items are very important so that they can move about and perform tasks safely.

6. Do everything to prevent falls and other accidents.

Being independent is helpful only if patients are safe. Older patients are prone to mishaps so it is crucial to keep the environment clutter and hazard-free. Ensure adequate lighting in places where they frequent. Also, helping them become independent does not always mean leaving them alone. Sometimes, it is safer to supervise an older patient performing an activity than leaving them on their own.

7. Help older patient’s finish tasks that are too difficult.

Older patients like to be independent but would welcome help when needed to finish an activity. For example, when bathing, have them wash on their own but clean the areas that they are unable to reach.

Older patients need to feel that they are still serving a purpose and not merely existing or being just a bother. As a CNA, you can give their life back by helping them become independent while safely cared for. It is therefore best to avoid doing everything for the patient even if it means taking longer than usual to finish a task.

Understand that by letting them do things on their own, there would be spills and other similar mess. You might need to clean up frequently after them. But it is only in this way that they can regain a sense of control and be respected for their decisions. Remember, there is dignity in being independent.

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