It is vital that care homes are skilled at encouraging independence in the elderly. This may seem contradictory with the aim of providing care, but we believe that quite the opposite is true. While ensuring a high level of care and safety, promoting and actively working to maintain independence in elderly individuals brings a sense of control, self-esteem and dignity.
Furthermore, while a move to a care home may strike a chord as a loss of independence, in many situations quite the reverse can happen. By providing the support structure of a care home combined with carers who know how to promote independence in the elderly, the individual can often gain a renewed lease of life and freedom, gaining confidence once more.
At the core of promoting independence is facilitating choice and control. The typical ‘old-school’ care home models didn’t reflect this. Instead, they were a way of caring through straight-forwardly completing all tasks for the residents. Without denying that there are, of course, both circumstances and times when this is essential, it shouldn’t be the rule of thumb.
This is because, by doing everything for an individual, they lose autonomy and with it the sense of hope and self-confidence. When independence is removed through frailty or ill health, individuals can feel trapped and low, and fundamentally doubt their own capabilities and self-worth. While meeting all their care requirements for them is therefore intuitive, it is sometimes counterproductive and causes a more rapid deterioration.
Furthermore, by promoting independence, the care home resident feels they are viewed as an individual. This in turn creates a sense of achievement and indeed a sense of purpose to each day.
What is important is how independence is facilitated and promoted. It doesn’t mean leaving someone to do something themselves without assistance. It is creating a framework of independence that is specific to that individual and their needs. This means looking at all aspects of daily life and activity, then taking a tailored approach which balances independence, support and care within the individual’s capabilities.
Firstly, it is important to realise that in the first instance of your endeavours at encouraging independence in the elderly or a new care home resident may be met with some resistance. This is likely for a range of reasons including fear and anxiety. It is vital at this stage that encouragement is gentle and tailored to the individual.
Promoting independence also isn’t the ‘hands-free’ option of care. Rather it can be very ‘hands-on’ in terms of support and assistance. This support needs to be accommodating and consistent. At its core should be enabling as much independence as possible with each individual’s differences in mind.
For all care home residents, but perhaps particularly for those who are most distressed at losing independence and therefore themselves resist help, it is vital to keep health and safety concerns at the forefront. Where there is a risk to health and safety, the goals should be to consider how a task can still be achieved independently without preventing the attempt at independence. The aim is to balance the risk of harm against the right to freedom.
Let’s take a look at some practical ways of encouraging independence in the elderly.
Independence encouraging activities and tasks can be physical or mental, and should be chosen with the individual in mind according to their abilities.
At our care homes in both North Devon and Somerset, we strive to deliver the right level of care for an individual balanced against promoting their independence. We are fortunate in our ability to do this as we provide different levels of care and different settings according to need, i.e. assisted living, residential care, nursing care and specialised dementia care.
We have found that promoting independence not only serves to bring renewed confidence and self-esteem, but also strengthens the relationships between our residents and staff. Everyone in an Eastleigh home is very much an individual and help is always on hand when required, in a framework of care and support.