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Independence vs. Safety

July is an important month in American society since it hosts the country’s Independence Day holiday. And while liberty is often viewed in social and political contexts, it also factors into peoples’ lives on an individual level. In particular, the topic of personal independence is of great concern to older folks who struggle to care for themselves.

Seniors often find they lose independence as they age. Physical and cognitive impairment can affect all aspects of their lives. And they know that, ultimately, their decline could result in the need to live communally with relatives or in a facility with other seniors.

Now is a good time for families to look at the issue of independence and how it affects their aging loved ones. And while most people want to ensure the safety of vulnerable friends, relatives, and patients, it’s important to remember it can sometimes come with a tradeoff in personal liberty. Here are ways families can navigate the independence versus security dilemma.

Case-By-Case Evaluation

Today’s society loves to categorize people. Buzz terms like “population health management” dominate the healthcare community, and computer algorithms are designed to identify risk factors for groups based on large data sets. But families should remember their loved one’s situation is always unique.

An expert may broadly say nobody 90 years of age or older should live alone. But that wouldn’t be fair to an older person who is unusually healthy and independent. Some 100-year-olds are healthier than their own senior-citizen children! Families should never use generic perimeters or age thresholds to pressure their loved ones to give up independent living.

Respect & Personal Decisions

While it’s reasonable and healthy for adult children to propose safer living options for aging parents, they should also respect their human dignity. Someone may be 90 or 100 years old and physically vulnerable, but he or she is not a child. Seniors are rightfully insulted when patronized by younger family members.

Folks who initiate conversations with aging loved ones regarding safety concerns and living options should do so with respect and not set ultimatums except in extreme situations. Granted, families may be forced to take drastic action when relatives suffer dementia or severe cognitive decline. But mentally alert seniors should make their own life decisions.

Assisted Living vs. Home-Based Care

Families that decide to explore safer living options for vulnerable seniors will find two main resources: assisted living and home-based care. Under the first option, the aging relative moves into a community setting with other seniors. He or she will live in an “assisted living facility,” which is basically a senior apartment with concierge services that address the needs of older folks. These communities usually provide three meals a day, various safety measures, recreational activities, and staff that can address common non-medical care needs.

Home-based care solutions are an alternative to assisted living facilities. Workers known as “caregivers” can be hired to help an aging loved one at his or her own home. These people can assist day or night with mobility, bathing, dressing, and other “activities of daily living” (ADLs). They can also cook, clean house, and provide general supervision and companionship.

Assisted living is often more affordable than home-based care but also requires seniors to leave their homes to live communally among other people. The loss of a beloved house and personal independence can be difficult for some older people, and many family members will find the proposal is immediately rejected. Alternatively, home-based caregivers allow seniors with financial resources to age-in-lace at home.

Safety-Focused Tools & Technology

While seniors with significant care needs are usually compelled to choose between assisted living and home-based care, more affordable technology solutions can prove sufficient for older folks who simply need minor assistance and safety precautions. These tools can help people age-in-place at home with modest financial investment and little encroachment on daily life.

For example, personal emergency response solutions (PERS), such as LifeFone, provide affordable technology that can detect falls and other medical emergencies. These tools even alert family and/or paramedics to these events for immediate response. LifeFone’s robust solution also provides other features that further promote a senior’s safety at home, such as fire and carbon monoxide detection and medication reminder services.

Other common technologies make life easier for people of all ages but are especially beneficial in promoting independence for seniors and vulnerable folks living alone. These include “smart home” tools that remotely control door locks, thermostats, and household appliances and “virtual assistants,” such as Amazon’s “Alexa.” Alexa uses voice command technology to aid in web browsing and the operation of televisions, stereos, and various electronic devices. One can only imagine how liberating these tools are for someone who struggles with mobility.

Conclusion (Walking in Their Shoes)

At the end of the day, it’s easy for families to prioritize an aging loved one’s safety over independence. But people should remember personal dignity and self-determination know no age. While It may be necessary to make life decisions for older relatives with dementia or severe cognitive impairment, mentally-alert seniors should control their own destiny. And safety-focused technologies, such as LifeFone personal emergency response solutions, can help promote independence and safety for folks who choose to age-in-place at home.

If your elderly loved one, friend, or patient intends to remain at home despite physical limitations or other vulnerabilities, be sure to call LifeFone today for a free assessment on technology that promotes safety and independence!

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