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How to deal with a loss of independence

Learn to cope with a loss of independence due to aging

Last Updated 6/4/18
by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
Son comforting elderly father

Introduction

As people age, they will inevitably find themselves depending on others for help with daily tasks. A loss of independence is a natural part of growing older, and it’s important to know how to cope in the best way possible.

The truth is that there’s no real roadmap that works for everyone dealing with a loss of independence. There aren’t any quick fixes to help you accept that you’re unable to perform daily tasks easily. Nor is there a perfect way to offer help to someone coming to grips with losing their own independence.

While we can’t offer easy answers, we can provide some advice to help guide you through the difficulties of losing your independence. We also provide advice for helping a loved one as they age and find daily tasks more difficult.

Woman using walker to stand up

What do we mean by a loss of independence?

At its core, losing independence means that you start to have trouble managing your day to day life. You begin to lose control over physical, emotional or social parts of your life. Here are some signs that it may be happening to you or your loved one.

Physical independence

The clearest indication that you may be losing your independence is when you are physically unable to do everyday tasks like driving, remembering to clean the kitchen or walking around in general. Here are some physical indicators you or your loved one may be experiencing.

  • Difficulty performing daily tasks and chores

  • Loss of sight or hearing

  • Difficulty walking

  • General decrease in physical energy

  • Becoming less flexible

  • Inability to lift objects or open jars

Emotional independence

Not all signs of losing your independence are physical. Depression often goes undiagnosed in elderly people, and losing your physical independence can lead to you losing control over your emotions. Here are some indications this may be happening.

  • Increased irritability and anger

  • Unexplained guilt

  • Reluctance to ask for help

  • Feelings of helplessness

  • Increased moments of confusion

Social independence

Losing your independence may also make you less likely to enjoy social activities with friends and family. Look out for these warning signs.

  • Loss of interest in social activities like sports or parties

  • Forgetting appointments

  • No longer keeping regularly scheduled social engagements

  • Not leaving the house, even for errands

Person bringing coffee to a senior

For people experiencing a loss of independence

If you are beginning to lose your independence, you’re not alone. It happens to most people as they age, and it’s perfectly natural to feel frustrated, angry or afraid. There are, however, ways to cope to help you adjust.

Understand that your feelings are valid, but let go of guilt

Losing your independence can leave you feeling angry, frustrated or scared. These feelings are understandable, but don’t let them lead you to feeling guilt or shame. You’re going to need some help, and that’s OK.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you’re having trouble getting around somewhere or remembering appointments, ask for help. It can be frustrating or annoying, but you are going to have to depend on people for everyday things. It may be humbling and uncomfortable to ask for help at first, but it’ll become more natural as you do it. And the people you ask will probably be relieved that you’re asking for help instead of doing something that could cause an injury.

Try to listen to advice

It can be hard to take advice from others about your life, especially if you are a fiercely independent person. Sometimes, though, you need to take the advice of others. If someone thinks you may need a walk-in bathtub or a stair lift, give their suggestion some consideration. They have your best interest at heart.

Be honest with your loved ones

Even though you need help, you still need control over your life. If you think your caregivers, friends or family are micromanaging more of your decisions than they should, tell them. Be honest about how you’re feeling if you think they can be more supportive instead of controlling.

Senior man with caregiver

For loved ones of people experiencing a loss of independence

Helping someone who is losing their independence can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Nevertheless, if you have someone in your life who is losing independence, you’ll want to support them as best you can. Here are some tips to be more supportive.

Be patient

Someone losing their independence may become irritable or easily frustrated. It’ll take time for them to acknowledge they need help, especially if they are stubborn. Don’t forget, they’ve been going about their daily lives for years. You can’t expect them to accept everything at once; be patient because as hard as it is for you, it’s even harder for them.

Help them get out of the house

If your loved one is unable to drive, help them get out of the house. Seeing friends and family can lift their spirits and lighten their moods. If you find them becoming more irritable or short-tempered, suggest going for a short walk or visiting a friend.

Make suggestions, and encourage them to listen

Not everyone will want to consider things like aging in place features for their homes. There’s a possibility they may resent having to rely on you. Make sure they know you have their best interest in mind when you make suggestions.

Ask them how they’re feeling and listen to them

You may have a lot of suggestions, but know the difference between helping and controlling your loved one. If your loved one tells you that you’re being too controlling, listen to them. Even if you think you’re helping, you could be accidentally dismissing their concerns. When they tell you that maybe they don’t need you to do absolutely everything for them, believe them.

Take time for self care

Caring for someone losing their independence can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Make sure you take some time for yourself if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Hire a caretaker if you can and take some time off. Don’t neglect self care; you can’t help anyone if you’re just as tired and frustrated as they are.

Daughter with senior mother

Conclusion

There aren’t any easy answers or quick fixes to help you deal with a loss to independence, either for yourself or someone you love. But with patience, caring and encouragement, you can help each other move forward in productive ways that can still enrich your life.

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David Chandler, Ph.D., writes for the ConsumerAffairs Research team to help consumers make smart purchasing decisions. David is passionate about creating content that is useful and informative, and he devotes several hours to researching companies, industries and articles for each piece of content he writes to help consumers find what they need.

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