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I am afraid of the loss of autonomy:how to manage?

I am afraid of the loss of autonomy:how to manage?

When we get older, several phenomena are sources of anxiety. It is not for nothing that many women are worried when they see their white hair multiply, while men can consider themselves lucky as long as they still have it! It is that beyond an aesthetic concern, all these markers of aging send us back to fundamental anxieties. After all, it is said that it is the awareness of our own finitude that distinguishes man from animals. But even more than the anguish of death, it is that of the loss of autonomy that bothers seniors:57% of them according to an Ifop survey, which makes it biggest source of anxiety for the elderly , even before death itself, but also isolation, fear of losing usefulness, etc. It is that if death itself represents an end point - a liberation even for some - mere survival in conditions deemed unworthy is itself a form of purgatory, a vague space between life and death, still deemed more undesirable than the latter!

This anxiety about the loss of autonomy indeed reminds us of our decline and our subsequent disappearance. But even worse, the end of our autonomy makes us on the one hand dependent on others, which is both a personal failure and a form of humiliation; and on the other hand encroaches on our freedom, by gradually transforming our body into a prison, a cage that limits us while it precisely ensured our independence when we were still in good shape. It is therefore quite normal to fear this moment, especially since it is particularly insidious in that it most often develops gradually - a bit like the way in which we do not see wrinkles or white hair appear by one as long as you don't suddenly come across photos of yourself younger. If death is an anxiety in the face of the unknown, the fear of the loss of autonomy refers precisely to the loss of what is known and which has defined our life, and initiates an end of life which not only announces the expiry of death but makes it particularly difficult to live with.

A widely shared anxiety

If it can reassure you if you suffer from this fear yourself, first know that you are not alone in this case. Thus, 57% of French people revealed in 2017 in an Ifop survey devoted to themes related to aging that they fear the loss of autonomy - this was the category that came first, it being more and more increased with the advancing age of the respondents. Many people thus sometimes say of their loved ones who have become completely senile and dependent, but whose body seems to continue to function without problem, in this semi-vegetative state for years, that they would in a sense prefer to see them die... The question of the loss of autonomy is also central to the debate around euthanasia:some people would prefer to leave in a way they deem worthy rather than sink into dependence and the loss of their physical, cognitive and mental faculties .

The other conclusions of the survey echoed this view, since nine out of ten people said they wanted to age in their own home rather than in a retirement home or hospitalized environment, and even when living at home is no longer an option. , it was rather the senior residence with service that was acclaimed. Each time, it is therefore the options synonymous with the most autonomy that are hoped for, recalling the fear of the loss of it.

Anxiety in general finds its source precisely in phenomena over which we have no control:death, aging, or loss of autonomy. These are all as immutable as the passage of time itself. The loss of autonomy has this more perhaps that it precisely makes us lose our grip in an insidious way on everything that surrounds us. She also generates a reversal of roles with her children :while we took care of them when they were babies and did our best to make them self-sufficient adults — which seems to be in the order of things — now it's their turn to do the same, not only with their own descendants, but also towards us!

Do we not sometimes say that elderly people with a total loss of autonomy are somewhat reminiscent of babies? In the worst cases, we become incontinent, we can no longer feed ourselves, we struggle to communicate or understand our environment... There is reason to be frightened, as the course of our life is presented to us as constant progress. , and not like a curve that rises in the first part before declining abruptly:yet this is often more what it ends up looking like.

Preparing for the loss of autonomy

Many older people prefer to hide this anxiety rather than confront it. However, if it is true that nothing can be done in the face of this fatality, especially since it strikes quite randomly - some approaching their centenary in full possession of their faculties or almost, while others others, barely in their eighties, must be placed in a medical environment because their safety is so endangered by the gradual loss of their faculties — preparing for it nevertheless allows you to tackle it head-on and demystify this fear . Making preparations in view of the day when we will begin to lose our autonomy has two advantages:to make it less brutal when it ends up occurring on the one hand, but also, by manifesting it concretely, to be able to objectify it and confront it.

To prepare for it, you don't need to be bedridden:from the age of fifty, you can already ask yourself questions about the decline in your physical form to come. For example, if you live in a house where the bedrooms are upstairs, will it still be sustainable to live there when you are twenty years older? Are the stairs too steep? And so on. Many facilities such as stairlifts, non-slip safety devices in the shower, etc., exist to allow the elderly to stay in their homes as long as possible in complete safety. Similarly, remote assistance services for the elderly guaranteeing rapid intervention in the event of an accident and a contact available 24/24 reassure both the elderly person and their relatives, as well as concierge services which ensure the supply of meals. or medication when the person is (temporarily or not) not able to provide for themselves.

Because the loss of autonomy should not only mean being bedridden by a failing body or completely losing the ball. It is ultimately a long-term process:these are all the little warning signs, the progressive failures of our body. Many people, for example, have to start wearing glasses in their forties or fifties. We do not think of them as people with a loss of autonomy, yet it is a bit the case – this one is simply not dramatic. And when you lose your sight, you wear glasses, right? Well, it's the same when the loss of autonomy accelerates and you can no longer live alone:​​you make arrangements. And as in some cases, the head does not follow, you might as well have anticipated as soon as possible.

And if the loss of autonomy often strikes unfairly, it is nevertheless possible to seek to prolong one's independence by making sure to stimulate one's faculties, whether physical or mental. Thus, a number of activities and hobbies make it possible to keep the body in shape, but also to stimulate cognitive faculties, memory, etc., which can delay the development of senility or diseases such as Alzheimer's.

How to deal with this anxiety?

However, these are only solutions to the loss of autonomy itself, but not so much to the anxiety it generates - although being prepared for it can of course make it less distressing. To deal with fear as such, it is best to seek psychological support from a professional , which will help you to understand this anxiety and to accept it. For this, however, it is still necessary to admit it and not take refuge in denial, as mentioned above. It is only by becoming aware of your fear that you can begin to fight it.

It is all the more important to face it, because an anxious state is accompanied by other disorders:sleep disorders, with insomniac states; physical disorders even, when the anxiety is found somatized and leads to disorders of the vegetative nervous system; a depression, finally, in which anxieties (not only about the loss of autonomy, moreover) can plunge some elderly people. If the loss of autonomy is a fatality for many, its prospect should not shake your current life.