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How to provide care while respecting independence

By Colleen Acker, BeWell Activities Coordinator, CareWell Services

Independence can mean different things to different people. Those with dementia and other health issues often equate independence with the ability to care for themselves. 

This often becomes difficult as health conditions progress. However, it is important for a person’s wellbeing to be included in daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and household chores. Though they may not be able to execute these tasks fully, the involvement itself provides structure and stability to their day. As the need for more help becomes evident, caregivers must continually pivot to get the needed care in place.

Angela’s Story

Here is an example of how one caregiver, Angela, consistently anticipated and responded to her mother’s changing needs.  

My mother always lived nearby which made it easy to check in and make sure she was doing okay. We purchased her groceries and other supplies for her. We took her to her doctor’s appointments and filled her pill case weekly. We did much of her yard work and moved her laundry facilities to her main floor.  She was able to prepare her own simple meals but did not eat as often as she should have.

She began having more health issues and difficulty maintaining her weight. Trips to the hospital were becoming more frequent. At this point we realized she needed to move into our home. Keeping her with us would allow her the freedom she deserved while having more supervision.

Due to our house being two-story, we gave her our master bedroom on the main floor. She has her own bathroom that we equipped with a raised toilet seat, bars to aid in getting on and off the toilet and a shower with a wand and chair. She has a bed with safety railing that raises or lowers at the head. I assist her with her showers, but she can get herself onto the shower seat. I wash her hair and she washes the rest of her body with a shower wand. Then I assist her with getting dressed.    

She has a recliner with power assist in the living room along with all her breathing equipment. We got her a walker, with wheels and a seat, to help her get around the house and outside.

I do all of her shopping, laundry, and bills. I schedule and take her to all appointments, order medication and fill her pill box. Palliative care visits at least every six months to help manage her chronic illness. She also has an emergency button in case of falls or other emergencies. We have a great friend that is willing to come to our house to cut and style her hair.  

She rarely makes her own food, but we have a drawer with things like Boost, snack cakes, crackers, small containers of soup, and other small, easy to open munchies. She is able to be alone while I am at work as she can use the bathroom independently. I put some fruit out for her before I leave. She makes her own coffee and gets a light lunch. I make dinner for her dinner every night. 

We try to help her continue to enjoy things that she did in the past, like puzzles, game shows, playing cards, and helping any way she can in the flower garden. We take her to family events like weddings and make sure she has everything she needs to be comfortable when away from the house.  

I just know that no one wants to give up their independence, and I knew she needed help.”

This narrative perfectly illustrates the journey of many caregivers. As one ability fades, the caregiver steps up to put modifications or assistance in place. Angela demonstrates an understanding that the person being cared for needs the grace and dignity to care for themselves as long as possible. Their story beautifully represents what it means to respect independence.  

How CareWell Services Southwest Helps Caregivers

CareWell Services of Southwest Michigan, Area Agency on Aging has many programs that help caregivers and the people they care for. We advocate for continued independence, empowerment, equity, and safeguarding of rights for seniors, persons with disabilities, and caregivers. Classes, social opportunities, exercise, referrals, support groups, and financial assistance are available. Call (269) 966-2450  for more information.  

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