As providers of services for older adults and caregivers, we promote the concept of maintaining independence as one ages. Independence is in our mission statement and in our marketing materials; as well as what we hear from the older adults we work with, “I want to stay independent and remain in my home.”
It occurs to me that we are, perhaps, promoting the wrong idea. For what is wrong with dependence? In my 50s, I don’t feel particularly independent. When I have groceries to carry in, I ask my son for help. If I have a flat tire, I call my husband or road service (neither of which will show up promptly but they will get there eventually). If I have a work concern I talk with my colleagues. Unsure about a location of a store – I’d Google it. Should I go back to school? I talk with my daughter. I don’t think twice about asking for help with the mundane to the important decisions in my life. Why then as I get older should I hold on to independence as though without it I will seek to be an individual?
A better concept might be to promote interdependence as the best way to age. We need to be able to ask for help when we need it; admit our frailties; and look for ways to stay connected and engaged as we get older. If it worked for us throughout our lives, why change now? Let’s not be afraid to admit it is time for support or that we don’t remember things the way we used to. If it worked when we were 16 and forgot our homework or 25 and needed a little money to pay bills, or 30 and had a baby and needed our parent to lend a hand, or at 40 when we wanted to change careers and got the assist from a co-worker or at 50 when we spoke with a financial planner about our retirement plans, why does it cease to work at age 55 and older?
Why is it so hard to ask for help? And why is it harder for some of us to accept the offers of assistance from family, friends and others in the community? Is it possible to have a society where being dependent on one another is not only OK but the best way?
Kate Lewis works as Chief Advancement Officer at Seabury Resources for Aging. She can be reached at (202) 414-6312 or via email at KLewis@seaburyresources.org