SENIORS: OF CANES AND WALKERS AND WHEEL CHAIRS

Dec 14th, 2011 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Senior Moments Blog

Ego vs Mobility

Let’s face it, Seniors.  Some of us have ego problems.  And aging presents some new and interesting challenges with the ego when it comes to mobility. Although ‘ego’ has a clinical definition, we seldom use that one and instead use the term to refer to the way we perceive ourselves.  The older some of us get, the more out of touch we become with the reality of our bodies and the limitations we experience. For example, there are a lot of elderly in the world who believe they can walk/navigate safely without the assistance of a cane or walker.  Then they fall, break a hip and end up with bones not healing well.  That leads to wheel chairs (skip the cane or walker stage) and/or being bedridden… all because their unrealistic self-perception was locked into being able to walk without assistance.

Some seniors may need to be helped to accept the necessity for assistance in walking.  The need for a cane is usually identified when the senior needs help steadying themselves as they walk.  Their gait is not impaired and muscle strength in the legs is still pretty good.  They just need help being steady on their feet.  They graduate to a walker when muscle strength is impaired to one degree or another, and need assistance with their gaitThey are unable to walk safely without the assistance of a walker when they are both unsteady on their feet and cannot safely put one foot in front of the other without danger of falling.

Independence vs Blind Stubbornness

The difficulty with accepting the necessity for assistance is that the elder has to be able/willing to admit the need for help, and that’s where the ego problem comes in.  For many seniors, the ego is screaming to remain independent, to refuse to ask for help.  But when the ego interferes with reality and the senior ends up fooling her/himself, the senior is in serious danger of permanent damage to limbs.  This is probably no longer the need for independence; it is blind stubbornness that carries with it very real dangers. Because caretakers, nursing home personnel and assisted living staff are not legally permitted to force seniors to use assistive devices, there is little they can do to protect elderly patients from broken bones.  Elders cannot be protected from themselves, their poor judgment and unrealistic view of reality.

On the other hand, there are seniors who have a need for independence and recognize safety issues. They have good judgment and are able to make appropriate decisions about assistive devices when the need is presented to them by their primary care physician or family and close friends.  For these seniors, the ego isn’t interfering.  They think it through to logical conclusions, recognize the need for assistance and want to remain as mobile as possible for as long as possible.  Thus they make the choice to get a walker, or if mobility is seriously impaired and a wheel chair is the only safe option, they are able to make that choice.  Their judgment is in good shape, and they are able to appropriately problem solve. They move to a wheel chair because they still want to be able to get around; they choose wheels when the feet and legs can’t do the job anymore.  It’s no big deal for them.

A side effect for those of us trying to help senior loved ones with mobility issues is the comfort provided when the elder makes the choice to be safe.  Very comforting.  It helps us sleep better at night.



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