“Children, Please – I’d Rather Do it MYSELF!”

Mother, PLEASE, – I’d Rather do it Myself!

A classic Anacin ad from the early days of TV:

The first segment of this new series was written by Art Carr as a Guest Author for the Senior Housing Forum Blog.

That young homemaker of the 1960’s is now a resident in a senior living community and is still becoming “stressed out” because she is not being allowed to do as much for herself as she desires.  Everyone around her – friends, family, AND the staff of the assisted or independent living community – believe that they are being helpful when they do everything for her.  Their intentions are just as good as her Mother’s all those years ago – yet, the result is even worse.  All her Mother did was give her a headache; well-meaning staff may be actually robbing her of the ability to care for herself!

Independence is primarily a “state of mind” – a person’s desire and belief in their ability to perform a task or handle a situation under their own direction.  They may choose to accept minimal assistance, but the CHOICE is theirs.  In the book, “Successful Aging” based on the MacArthur Foundation Study of Successful Aging, the authors found that older men and women named remaining independent with the ability “to take care of themselves” as their primary goal.[i]

Dependence is a Learned Trait

Beginning in infancy, we are taught to do things for ourselves: e.g. toileting, eating, walking, and dressing.  As we mature, we are encouraged to become self-reliant, think and act independently and, as responsible adults, to “stand on our own two feet” and become productive in society.

Yet, once we reach the normal retirement age (around 65), we enter “a time of life when nothing is expected”[ii] of us.  This roleless role continues in old age, often couched in terms such as “You’ve ‘earned the right to leisure’[iii], so just sit back and let me take care of you.”  While an admirable sentiment, this approach misses the key point that forced leisure is not what aging adults are seeking.  Like all of us, they want the RIGHT to choose and make decisions for themselves about their care and lifestyle.

As we age, our care needs and dependence on others for assistance naturally increase, but the desire for independence and satisfaction of ego and other higher level needs [see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs[iv]] continues.  However, the cumulative effect of family, friends and/or healthcare professionals telling the senior that they CAN’T or SHOULDN’T continue doing specific tasks (e.g. laundry, yard work, cooking) and/or caregivers taking over responsibility for these functions weighs on the individual.  Ultimately, they’ll give in and become dependent on the caregiver – EVEN WHEN THEY COULD STILL DO IT THEMSELVES!

To emphasize this point, consider what would happen to the development of a toddler if the parents continue to cut the child’s food at every meal?  It’s fairly easy to recognize the problems this would cause the child when they go to school, but less clear that the same dependency can be learned by the elderly as their sense of purpose and productivity is removed by others with their misguided efforts to do “what’s best for them”.

The attitude of the management and staff and the approach taken in a given situation is often more important than the actual action in preserving a resident’s independence and dignity.  For instance, there is a fine line between a gentleman opening a door as a courtesy and a senior living employee treating every resident with a walker as disabled.  Please go to the “Children Please …” category on the Progressive Retirement Lifestyles blog [https://progressiveretirement.wordpress.com/category/Children please …/] for more insights into specific examples and suggestions as to how management can PROMOTE INDEPENDENCE.  Embracing these concepts will lead to higher resident satisfaction, longer lengths of stay and an environment that will be more appealing to higher functioning seniors.

 

[i] “Successful Aging”, John W. Rowe, M.D. and Robert L. Kahn, Ph.D., Masterpiece Alliance Foundation, 1998

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] https://progressiveretirement.wordpress.com/category/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs/

If you remember this ad and the cultural phenomena it created, PLEASE share your remembrances in the comment section below. COMMENTS:

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