Autonomy, Health, and Aging

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Choosing how we live our daily lives according to our own values and preferences is central to our dignity at any age – including when we are older. Everyone should have the right to this autonomy and independence.

Simply put, autonomy is defined as the state of existing or acting separately from others. 

For many older adults, the autonomy and independence they enjoyed earlier in their lives is denied in their later years – often because others think they can no longer make their own decisions or disregard them when they do. “My children want to control my life!  I’ve had enough!” a 78-year-old client once exclaimed to us.

Some older adults experience a loss in autonomy and independence when their health deteriorates. Elaine, a Hurley Elder Care Law client once shared, “After I had a stroke, my body was weak, and I had to bring care into my home. They see me as less than when I was strong and healthy.” Clearly, just because Elaine has declining physical health does not automatically mean that the she has lost capacity (able to make a decision).

Respecting an individual’s right to autonomy while keeping them safe can be difficult to achieve.

We all have a right to our autonomy as well as the right to make bad decisions.  82-year-old Janet lives at home with her husband, Mike. Janet, who does not have any cognitive impairment, has always been active in her church and involved with the various reputable charities her church supports. Recently Mike realized Janet has written several checks this year totaling $10,000 in donations to these charities! Living on a fixed income, they did not budget for these large donations. So, since Janet has not been determined to lack competency by the court and in need of a conservator, she can make her own financial decisions, even if her choices seem poor.

Sometimes, going to live in a residential care facility, such as an assisted living community, can lead to less autonomy. However, the philosophy of assisted living emphasizes personal dignity, autonomy, independence, privacy, and freedom of choice. Autonomy can be improved if the facility exhibits a flexible attitude. For example, being able to satisfy the request of a resident who wants to have dinner at a unique time or to eat something different.

Maintaining your autonomy is good for your health

According to the National Institute of Health, “autonomy has an important role in active aging, given that it is strongly associated with longevity, good self-assessed health, and the prevention of depression and cognitive deterioration among the elderly. Autonomy is an essential concept because it relates directly to dignity, regardless of health circumstances.” The goal is to balance the right to be autonomous while protecting the vulnerable.

Hurley Elder Care Law are experts in advocating for the autonomy of our clients. Our holistic approach, including our team of Certified Elder Law Attorneys, social workers, public benefit experts and dedicated intake specialists, allow us to work closely to address our clients care, financial and legal situations. Please call us at 404-843-0121 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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