10 Most Common Fears Of Seniors and ElderlyPosted on September 18, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Blog, Caregiver Education, Caregiving, Education
By Ruth Z.W. Johnson
Fear is an unpleasant emotion common to each of us. It can be beneficial if it keeps us from doing something dangerous, such as walking on railroad tracks. It can be debilitating when it holds us so tightly in its grip that we are overcome with anxiety and dread.
Home Instead Senior Care Network conducted a national survey of seniors and used the results to rate their 10 most frequent fears. While not as dire as those expressed by non-Americans, these fears are real to our elderly population. These fears are listed in descending order from the most common, along with ideas on how caregivers can address these worries.
Loss of independence. Most seniors I know are adamant about making their own choices, even when they know they can no longer be on their own. When a decision needs to be made, discuss the possibilities and let your loved one voice his needs and desires. A caregiver who encourages this right as much as possible — instead of taking total control — will find favor and will help alleviate the concern that “I have no control over my life.”
Declining health. Our bodies (and minds) at some point begin to show wear and tear. A healthy lifestyle can postpone this, but not forever. It may take a hundred years or so, but eventually we will all discover we are going downhill. Our son, Benjamin, who will turn 40 next week, recently expressed the belief that he is at the pinnacle, looking down — to which I reply: “Balderdash! You haven’t even experienced middle-age yet.” When your loved one does reach that downward stage of life, a compassionate health professional with whom he feels comfortable can provide caring guidance and ease the journey.
Running out of money. While this worry may well be justified, it usually becomes the responsibility of the family caregiver to seek out resources when no one planned ahead or unforeseen circumstances devoured the savings. With apologies to the original adage, a penny of prevention is worth a dollar of cure. Start financial planning for elder years during younger years, so this will not be one of your fears when you reach senior status.
Not being able to live at home. Home means safety, comfort and love. There is no place like home. When your loved one’s desire is to live at home, your goal should be to facilitate that wish as long as possible. Sometimes what we consider “impossible” is actually only difficult or scary. This is one fear that often becomes a reality; hopefully, it does so only when there really is no other option.
Death of a spouse or other family member. It is interesting that the people surveyed worried more about the death of a loved one than their own demise. Those who have a spiritual understanding of death have often come to terms with their own mortality at this stage of life. However, concern that the person who takes care of you may die first can be a cause of great anxiety, especially when there are no children or other family members to assume that role. Although it will be difficult, the best solution may be to openly discuss this possibility and make plans to assure your loved one that he will not be left alone.
Inability to manage their own activities of daily living. A sedentary lifestyle leads to weakness and lessens independence. Encourage as much physical and mental activity as reasonable. Do not do for others what they can do for themselves. These steps may defer — but will probably not eliminate — the eventual need for assistance in bathing, dressing, or even eating. When that time comes, the caregiver can lessen the discomfort of having another person provide these basic needs by showing great respect and preserving personal dignity.
Not being able to drive. Men, especially, find the idea of not being able to drive a disheartening prospect. Women may be more like me and love the idea of having a personal chauffeur. That’s the key — if it is no longer safe for your loved one to drive, make other arrangements for transportation. The perceived isolation (note the next fear), rather than the inability to drive, may be the reason the prospect of having driving privileges taken away is disconcerting to many seniors.
Isolation or loneliness. When I hear the Beatles sing, “Ah, look at all the lonely people …” I always imagine them walking the halls of a nursing home. What are we thinking when we allow those who have given us life, or that have meant the most to us in our lives, to spend their last years lonely and isolated? The more modern conveniences we acquire, the busier we become. But it is just wrong to forsake our elderly loved ones. Remember … someday, God willing, we will be in their slippers.
Strangers caring for them. Loving family members are always the first choice for caregiving responsibilities. If that option is impossible, it is imperative to know the person to whom you entrust the care of a loved one. Check references, observe interactions, and listen to any concerns the care receiver expresses. Be just as meticulous in choosing a caregiver as you would be in hiring a baby sitter.
Fear of falling or hurting themselves. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, every year one in three adults age 65 and older falls. Since falls and other “accidents” in this age group are mainly attributable to frailty and failing health, many cannot be avoided. Still, providing a safe environment and removing any hazards should be a priority. A Life Alert pendant can provide assurance for you and your loved one; but the time may come when continuous supervision is the only option.
As a caregiver, be willing to listen when your loved one expresses fears. Discussing options and providing loving reassurance can help to alleviate many concerns.
Ruth Z.W. Johnson has more than 12 years’ experience, both personally and professionally, as a caregiver. Her first novel, “Or Be Reconciled,” was recently published.