Aging adults may lose their independence for a wide variety of reasons. You might struggle with a chronic medical condition and require support managing your healthcare needs, or you may need assistance with your activities of daily living due to chronic pain, mobility limitations, or cognitive decline. Regardless of the reason, losing your independence can have a profound impact on your mental health. Even a slight decline in independence may affect your lifestyle, your daily routine, your relationships, and your sense of self. If you’re facing a loss of independence, it’s essential that you check in with yourself and your mental health. If you’re a caregiver for an aging loved one, you should do everything in your power to help them maintain their independence.
How Loss of Independence Affects Mental Health
Everyone’s mental health needs are different, so two seniors could have very different experiences with a decline in independence. The following are just a few of the many ways that losing independence can impact your mental health:
Social Isolation and Loneliness
One of the most devastating impacts of diminished independence among older adults is social isolation. When you rely partially or in full on others to ensure that you get enough social interaction, your social needs may go unmet. Instead of visiting a friend whenever you want to or bringing yourself to a social gathering, you may only be able to socialize when your family or caregiver is around.
We all need meaningful connections with others to maintain our mental health. Without quality time with friends, family, and your community, you may become vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and other challenges. Isolation is an especially serious problem for seniors because socializing is so important for maintaining your cognitive health.
Loss of Hobbies and Activities
Some hobbies remain accessible to those who lose their independence, but others may be harder to participate in if you’re experiencing a decline in mobility, cognitive challenges, or a serious medical diagnosis. A loss of independence may stop you from being fully able to engage in the activities you love, which can be extremely difficult to cope with. While you may be able to find new hobbies to engage in, you may lose your sense of self when you can no longer independently enjoy your passions.
Changing Sense of Identity
Losing your independence may change your understanding of yourself and your role in your family. Many older adults were caregivers and sources of support for their family for decades, so to require care from others can feel like a complete reversal of expectations.
It can be very difficult for older adults to accept help, especially from their children or other family members. Although a loss of independence doesn’t make you a less worthy or valuable person, requiring care from others can affect your sense of self. Many seniors struggle with low self-esteem as a result of their diminishing independence, and they may resist support from their family for as long as possible regardless of their needs.
Loss of Control
The feeling of loss of control can be incredibly painful for seniors who are facing a decline in independence. Everyone craves a sense of control over their own lives. When you rely on support from others to meet your basic needs, you may feel like you’re not in charge of yourself anymore.
Losing independence can also cause broader anxieties about loss of control over your health and well-being. When you start to require care and support from others, you may become fearful about what that means for your future. Many older adults struggle with feelings of anxiety regarding their physical or cognitive health, and they worry that they’ll experience even more significant health problems in the coming years.
Stress, Anxiety, and Agitation
A decline in independence usually means more time spent at home. If you don’t have many opportunities to get out in the community and socialize with others, you might start to feel restless and agitated. Sometimes, seniors who require care experience extreme stress or angry outbursts because they don’t have the freedom to control where they go and when. They feel physically, mentally, or emotionally confined, and they may not have a healthy outlet to cope with that stress.
Coping With Loss of Independence
Caregivers play a key role in empowering their aging loved ones to continue to live a full, meaningful life despite their diminished independence. Here are three ways you can help seniors cope with loss of independence:
An elderly adult may need support with certain tasks, but this doesn’t mean that they have to completely lose their autonomy. Your loved one can likely still advocate for themselves in many areas in their life. One of the best things you can do as a caregiver is to avoid making assumptions about your aging loved one’s abilities. By giving them space to advocate for themselves and identify their own needs, you can help them maintain a sense of control over their lives.
Interactive caregiving is an excellent way to ensure that your loved one continues to take an active role in their care. To practice interactive caregiving, try to engage your loved one as much as possible with tasks based on their strengths and interests. For example, your relative may need support with physically navigating the grocery store, but they could help you by making the shopping list.
Counseling for Seniors
While caregivers should do as much as they can to help their loved ones retain a sense of independence, it’s also important that seniors find healthy ways to cope with their changing lifestyle. Counseling can be an opportunity for aging adults to process their decrease in independence, express their emotions, and develop healthy coping skills.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for older adults facing a loss of independence, chronic health issues, mental health disorders, and other challenges. Contact us today to learn more about how counseling for seniors can help you or your loved one.