• Laurie Bell

The Power of Autonomy


I love to consider all available options and am always seeking to enhance my knowledge.  It, in turn, enhances the quality of service that I am able to provide to my clients.  

One thing is certain - either/or thinking doesn’t typically add value and it doesn’t help the older adult to view their options in a favourable light.

On the other hand, adding choices to the mix changes perception.  While busy people are understandably attracted to an “instant fix” or a single right answer, life and people aren’t quite that simple.

I’m really not surprised – I did, after all, work in crisis for over eight years.  Older adults and their family members are so uniquely varied that it is no wonder that a “one size fits all” solution often doesn’t quite fit at all.  People age differently, they have different health and mobility needs and they have quite varied expectations about what it means to age.  Some are avid seekers, planning and exploring all available options and others choose to simply wait and see what unfolds.  Some people are burdened by anxiety.  What will become of them? Will they need to move? How will they afford it?  Should they be thinking about it now? Is it all just too much to deal with?

Yes, people are all different and they respond to stress differently too.  Processes can be helpful but being nimble enough to quickly adjust to the person that I am working with has immeasurable value.  Older adults have every right to expect that we won’t just jolly them along.  They want us to really listen and try our best to address their true wants and needs.  They might be timid in nature or gruff and impatient but, underneath it all, I have found that there is one common denominator among all of my older clients:

The desire to maintain autonomy, independence and sense of control over one’s own life is probably the single most important priority that I see among my clients.

Having said this, I was fortunate to spend some quality time this week with a very insightful gerontologist.  She wisely pointed out that autonomy looks different at different times.  It doesn’t feel the same to a mobile 55 year old as it does to a 70 year old with some progressive health care issues and again, it certainly seems different to someone turning 90 and now on their own.  At each stage though, it is possible for caring family members and friends to address the underlying priority. 

While it is important not to paint all seniors with a single brush, it is also important not to relinquish their need for options.  Aging in place may be a viable choice.  Depending on mobility and evolving health care needs, a move however might enable the senior to maintain more independence.  A move to a condo without stairs, or a bungalow in a 50 Plus or shared community may be options worth considering.  While retirement living can look quite different for different individuals, housing doesn’t always automatically need to be in a traditional retirement residence or a long term care facility. There are numerous options available and don’t you owe it to yourself and your parents to explore all of them?  Choices empowering and maintaining autonomy for as long as possible is the goal.  When everyone fully understands their range of options, people can make informed decisions and that is certainly more desirable than trying to make any kind of decision in a time of crisis.  Taking that first step is the key and, as Martin Luther King said: Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.



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