When older adults begin needing help with everyday activities, our initial reaction is to provide as much assistance as we can. Our response is often that we want to provide safety; we believe it is our obligation; and we want to make things as easy as possible for our loved ones. Sometimes, however, in our eagerness to keep loved ones safe, we end up helping too much. It takes a lot of thinking to find the right balance between helping too much or too little as we see older adults decline.
Finding the right combination of support while encouraging independence can be challenging. One way to find a balance is to communicate with your loved one as to how they might want you to handle the situation if their physical and cognitive health decline. Talking about the future together and being realistic about what needs may arise might stave off future problems. Sometimes an older adult needs help with something once or twice and then we assume they always need it in that situation which may not be the case. Before taking over and jumping in, step back and observe as to whether continued assistance in that area is necessary or whether your loved one is capable or resuming the job. Supporting older adults in performing as many tasks as possible helps them improve self- esteem and confidence. We can always adjust the task to fit one’s ability. Talk to your loved one about the fact that appropriate help is empowering and allows one the opportunity to do more things and get more done. Assistance often allows someone to expand their capacities. For instance, using a cane helps one’s stability and helps them walk farther and more safely. The balance between helpful and not helpful can be a delicate one but by thinking through the issues and communicating with your loved one, it can be accomplished with dignity.