New Study Shows How Seniors Living Independently Resolve Issues Caused By Visual Impairment and the Risk of Falling

Walt Shurden
Board Certified Elder Law Attorney
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Martin, 74, was visually impaired and lived alone in his own home. He was excited when his daughter, Janet, moved back to Clearwater with her family. He loved being able to visit with his grandchildren more often and to be present at school events and family gatherings. But tension developed over what Martin felt was Janet’s meddling in his affairs. She wanted to overhaul the interior of his home with an eye toward safety. Martin had fallen at home once before but now he felt that Janet’s fear of him falling again was causing her to be authoritative and patronizing toward him.

As it turned out, the only thing that Janet accomplished was to cause Martin to be defensive during the time they spent together.

What was it that Martin was holding onto so steadfastly? A March 2016 study titled “Seniors’ Self-Preservation by Maintaining Established Self and Defying Deterioration – A Grounded Theory” conducted by Jeanette Källstrand Eriksson, PhD, Cathrine Hildingh, PhD, Nina Buer, PhD & Hans Thulesius, at the School of Health and Welfare, Halmstad University, Halmstad Sweden, attempted to explain how seniors living independently in the community resolve issues influenced by visual impairment and risk of falling. The researchers interviewed 13 visually impaired seniors who had each fallen at least one time while living independently in the community. They also interviewed six visual instructors with experience from hundreds of relevant incidents from the same group of seniors. Their findings were as follows:

The Group of Seniors Sought to Maintain Their Established Self

  • The Seniors’ main concern was about preserving their sense of self-identity as the person they used to be and the life they used to have before age-related deterioration began. With satisfaction, the seniors depicted the high points of their adult lives and told career stories, which indicated these were still key to their self-identity.
  • Relating to their past self was enhanced by preserving their home as it used to be and not making changes to the interior design. Removing rugs, mats or moving furniture was like removing memories. But preserving the home enhanced their sense of security. Each item on a shelf in the home can have independent significance and help elicit memories of close relationships with children, relatives and friends.
  • Many of the visually impaired seniors claimed they knew every inch of their sometimes cluttered environments. They still wanted to make their own choices and if a fall occurred, they would accept that it was because of their own negligence.
  • The seniors put up facades to hide impairments instead of exposing their vulnerabilities. They did this to protect their power of self-determination.

The Group of Seniors Also Took Action to Defy Deterioration

  • The seniors engaged in this behavior to preserve themselves by compensating for deterioration that reduced their quality of life.

Moving, Adapting and Networking were Three Actions the Seniors Took for Self-Preservation

  • “Moving” involved maintaining past activities, sometimes including hobbies and driving that now present increased risks. Moving also includes using mobility devices like walkers, canes and scooters, although seniors were concerned about the stigma of using these devices.
  • “Adapting” involved doing old things in a new way like listening to audio books and listening to radio instead of television.
  • “Networking” with old friends, family and new friends defies deterioration by helping the senior identify as his old self.

The study participants indicated that paternalistic approaches like interventions by family and professionals were viewed as insulting. The study gives us insight into Senior Citizens self-preservation strategies.

Advice for the Person Trying to Help

  • Acknowledge the value of those things in the house that add to the Senior’s identity.
  • Give credit for positive actions taken to defy deterioration by the Senior’s movement, adaptation, and networking.
  • Speak with respect. Don’t answer for your parent if they can.
  • Stop and think how you would want to be treated.
  • Keep things as positive as possible.

Remember, the most important thing as our parents age, is that we maintain loving relationships. Good relationships come from being understanding, patient, empathetic, and making the most of our time together.

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