It’s part of human nature to want to do things ourselves. As children, we’re encouraged to carry out activities when and how we want to. It’s only when carrying out an activity becomes too difficult, or when we fail, that we look for help.
Impact of Removing Independence
Sometimes the immediate solution is to remove the task entirely and hand it over to a carer.
I witnessed this when working as a community occupational therapist. If a patient was unable to cook independently, for whatever reason, the immediate response was to provide a carer for a mealtime visit. This removed the cooking activity from the patient entirely. Often the patient may have been struggling with just one aspect of the cooking task. By introducing a carer, the activity was removed from the patient altogether.
Loss of Independence Leads to Loss of Control
Another patient had a care package in place. Different carers visited her each day to cook her lunch and prepare a sandwich for tea time. There was no consistent time when they visited and their attendance time ranged between 11.45 and 2pm. This meant that on some days she ate before she was hungry. On other days she was very hungry before having her lunch. This caused resentment and the feeling of loss of control felt by the patient affected her profoundly.
Simple Solutions to Maintain Independence
During the Occupational Therapy assessments, it became clear that the patient could carry out most of the cooking tasks. However, they couldn’t carry heavy saucepans from the hob to the sink. This created a risk of dropping the boiling water. Introducing a lighter saucepan and a colander solved this problem. The patient was able to cook by using the colander in the saucepan. She could then lift her vegetables straight out of the hot water and onto the plate. With some minor kitchen equipment and some changes in the kitchen layout, she was able to prepare and cook her meals independently.
Balancing Independence and Assistance
Whenever assistance is provided to the elderly or disabled, it should be balanced to ensure as much independence as possible is maintained. I’d like to suggest that you consider the following;
- Identify which part of the activity is causing the difficulty. It may not be the whole task but just one component.
- Can an alternative method be adopted to help with the specific task? (Like the example of using a colander for boiling the potatoes)
- Is there any equipment available which will help? There are many aids to daily living that have been specifically designed to assist with daily activities.
- Encourage independence. Even if only a small amount of the activity can be undertaken by the patient, it all helps toward promoting self-worth and maintaining an independent lifestyle.