There are many different kinds of care and resources that can be provided for seniors. From independent living to around-the-clock monitoring, seniors are able to receive care that’s tailored to their own levels of health, cognitive function, and needs. But what if seniors demand a high level of independence when they are actually better supported by being in assisted living or another level of care? Could too much independence lead to senior abuse and neglect? What do communities need to do to prevent it? The following explores the delicate balance between independence and care.

The Breakdown

When it comes to senior independence and abuse, there are many questions surrounding what they are and how they’re different. Take a look at these common topics surrounding the subject.

What Constitutes Senior Abuse?

Senior abuse can be categorized as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect, financial exploitation, and abandonment. In any instance, senior abuse is the mistreatment of senior citizens and should never be overlooked. Here are a few examples of the different types of senior abuse:

  • Physical Abuse — Someone uses a tight grip to force a senior to do something, resulting in bruising.
  • Emotional Abuse — Someone verbally assaults a senior by calling them names, threatening them, or humiliating them.
  • Sexual Abuse — Someone touches a senior in a sexual way without their consent.
  • Caregiver Neglect — A caregiver intentionally withholds care or doesn’t fulfill their care responsibilities.
  • Financial Exploitation — Someone gains a senior’s confidence with the end goal of extracting money or stealing possessions from them.
  • Abandonment — A caregiver leaves a senior to fend for themselves in a situation in which they should not be left alone.

In addition to all of the more prominent forms of abuse, self-neglect may also occur. This is when a senior engages in behaviors that puts himself or herself in a harmful situation. Self-neglect is often due to the refusal to accept services that can improve the quality of life. Some examples of this would be a senior who refuses home health services to care for a wound or someone who is inattentive to hygiene needs. While it’s a little different from the main abuse and neglect types, it should still be taken just as seriously.

Senior Independence vs. Senior Neglect

There’s a fine line between honoring independence and reducing any incident of self-neglect when it comes to working with older adults. As outlined previously, senior neglect occurs when a caregiver withholds care intentionally or doesn’t fulfill all of their responsibilities when caring for the senior. In these cases, communities can take significant precautions and provide education to caregivers to ensure that neglect does not occur. In self-neglect cases in which a senior denies help, it is more difficult to prevent because the senior is both the victim and the abuser.

Senior independence can and should be honored in any situation in which the senior is capable, both mentally and physically, to handle his or her own care. Encouraging as much independence as possible increases self-esteem, reduces depression, and ensures that seniors maintain their physical and mental abilities.

However, the real trouble arises as mental and physical health changes over time. As those needs grow, the level of independence tends to decrease. If independence doesn’t decrease, it may lead to one form of neglect or abuse.

Why Seniors Want and Need Independence

Independence is valued by seniors. By having the ability to live where they want to live and take care of themselves, they feel that they are still strong and self-sufficient. Once independence begins to be taken away, they may have feelings of weakness and incompetence. That’s why it’s so important for procedures that stress independence and dignity to be put in place when a senior is transitioning into a senior living community. While there are many changes that are taking place, the senior should still feel like they have a say in relevant matters.

The majority of seniors reject the thought of transitioning to a senior living community because they fear all their independence will be taken away. What they don’t realize is that living in a senior community may help them live independently for a longer period of time. With the right assistance and care, they can maintain a fairly stable level of health and age normally.

Tips for Preventing Independent Senior Abuse or Neglect

As you oversee daily operations as an administrator, it’s important to ensure your residents are receiving the best care possible. To prevent independent senior abuse or self-neglect, utilize the following tips.

1. Identify Each Resident’s Independence Level

As new residents move into your community, be sure that you comprehensively review their levels of independence. Do they have trouble with mobility? Maybe they need someone to help them move around on a daily basis. Do they have enough cognitive function to care for themselves adequately from day-to-day? Perhaps they only need to be checked on periodically.

Each resident should be monitored over time to check for any decline in health. Details should be recorded in a care assessment and plan, which should be reviewed to ensure seniors are being provided with the right balance of care and independence. Many states mandate that this is done on an annual basis, or as care needs change.

2. Continuously Train Staff

Caregivers and clinicians should receive regular training on providing person-centered care, recognizing signs of physical and mental decline, and monitoring and reporting senior health changes and notes on suspected self-neglect. With this training, they can provide the absolute best level of care to each resident. Residents can also feel good about the level of independence they have.

3. Incorporate Activity Programs

Mobility is a huge factor in independence. Try adding activities that encourage seniors to move around and stay active. Plus, the social atmosphere will help fight off senior loneliness and isolation, which has been shown to increase the chances of premature death by as much as 14% in seniors.

Allow your staff to work in exercise programs to help with strength, balance, endurance, and flexibility, or plan day trips to generate a sense of excitement and adventure. The more you can get seniors moving and exploring, the more they will be able to safely maintain their independence.

Are you looking for more resources regarding seniors and their independence? Check out our Assisted Living: A New Approach to Care DVD! It uses real-life interactions to introduce topics such as dignity, choice, and independence.