Here we are on the cusp of celebrating Independence Day! There's lots of excitement in the air about what to grill, who is bringing what dessert or where the best fireworks will be. At the same time people are reflecting on what independence means to them, as Americans and as a nation.
I can’t help but get stuck on the word ‘independence’, and what this means at an individual level, particularly as someone who has worked with older adults for over twenty years.
What does the term ‘independence’ really mean and is any one person truly independent? I would like to propose that the term be replaced with something more nuanced, as Hillcoat-Nallétamby found when researching the meaning of independence for people living if different residential settings.
Seniors and Independence
Whether self-imposed, societal or both, the word independence tends to carry with it the potential for inaccurate judgement on one’s capabilities. Hence, clouding one’s thinking when considering accessing services. For example, I cannot tell you how many times I have given tours to people, interested in H.O.M.E.’s Good Life Senior Residences (GLSR) where they have voiced concerns that their ‘independence’ will be taken away. Why? Because we prepare lunch and dinner and do the housekeeping, both of which residents at the GLSR can do. Hence, my struggle with the word independence.
But, what is the alternative? Living alone, in an environment where others are not present? What if you fall due to not eating properly or not having the money make repairs in your home, resulting in a trip to the hospital and possibly injuring yourself, causing you to reside in a nursing home permanently. I know this is an extreme scenario but it could be a reality. As a professional gerontologist and social worker, I have witnessed this happening.
So, What does Independence Really Mean?
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines independence as the quality or state of being. Pause and focus on the word quality. One may have independence in their life, but do they have quality of life?
The intention of the word had different context when the thirteen colonies separated from Great Britain, declaring their ‘independence’. But the current reality is, in America, as well as in other countries, we are dependent on relationships.
Circling back to older adults, they too, like any person at any age, are dependent on relationships of all kinds, to survive. Adolescents strive to be independent but at the same time need support and guidance. Older adults work hard to also strive for their independence but sometimes to their own detriment.
Society’s stronghold on the notion of what independence means and how it is portrayed is doing a disservice to those that mistake independence for prevention. One of the most difficult messages to instill in older adults, with whom I have assessed for home care or housing throughout my career, is that surrounding oneself with a safe and supportive living environment is a major key to maintaining one’s ability to do things because of the preventative factors at play. I see it more as wanting to maintain prevention rather than maintaining independence.
July is a time to reflect on independence, and here at H.O.M.E. we celebrate independence all year long! Want to learn more about how our Intergenerational Housing program promotes independence, well-being, and community? Take a tour!
Do you want updates and tips in your inbox every week? Remember to subscribe to Senior Moments from H.O.M.E.