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How to Foster a Sense of Control Among Seniors

A senior black man smiling

Looking back on the unforgettable year of 2020, can you recall the first few weeks and months when nothing seemed to be in your control? Your choices of what to do, where to go, and who to see, suddenly became extremely limited.

However traumatic that experience was, many people now have a more authentic understanding of how it feels to lose the ability to exert their own will. We spend much of our lives shaping an independent, well controlled life, so a reversal of this can feel utterly stifling. In addition to contributing to anxiety and other overwhelming emotions, losing a sense of control is actually proven to contribute to the loss of independence among seniors.

Three Key Factors to Feeling in Control

Crises like a global pandemic aside, it is natural for adults to eventually lose choices over many parts of their lives.. Luckily, being in control, or fostering a sense of control, regardless of physical or cognitive abilities, can be a major plus in improving seniors’ satisfaction with their autonomy and own well-being. a sense of control can be fostered, regardless of one’s physical or cognitive abilities.

To foster a feeling of control, seniors and their care teams should take a pulse on these three factors:

  • Sleep
  • Routines
  • Choices

Get Enough Sleep

Scientists have proven that sleep is beneficial to our overall immune system and well-being. One study showed that sleep efficacy,or the belief that one can get a good night’s sleep,is associated with better control beliefs. Sleep patterns can fluctuate over one’s lifetime, so focus on whether older adults feel well rested throughout the day, rather than the number of hours of sleep achieved. If getting a good night’s sleep is a challenge, consider adding an extra walk around the block or trying a simple, repetitive bedtime routine. If those things don’t work, talking to a physician may be a good idea to address sleep concerns.

Keep Routines

It may seem obvious, but knowing what to expect can reduce anxiety and foster a calm outlook. Routines build a sense of control because the brain does not have to make a choice, the work has already been done, and there are few surprises. Rituals as simple as making a cup of coffee after your regular morning walk, reading a book on the porch in the early afternoon, or calling a loved one on a designated day of the week, can foster feelings of security and independence in older adults. People tend to veer away from routine when they are dealing with anxiety or stress factors. It’s important to keep some things “sacred” to maintain a sense of control.

Respect Choices

While there may be a natural loss of control over more and more aspects of life, it’s important help older adults focus on what they can control and allow them to exert that control. Be sure to ask and respect any boundaries. Do they still want to cook for themselves? Would they rather sit in the sun instead of the shade? If there are no medical or safety risks, these day-to-day choices should be respected and encouraged.

Today’s care teams can draw from their own experiences to remember how isolating and frustrating it can feel to lose the feeling of control over their own livelihood. Working with aging adults to foster that autonomy can be fairly easy, and may even reduce stress on caregivers themselves.

About JFCS Pittsburgh Senior Services

Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) Pittsburgh offers a range of services and resources to help seniors maintain their independence while providing support to caregivers and loved ones. For more information, please call JFCS Senior Services at (412) 422-7200 or visit www.jfcspgh.org/senior-services.