4 Ways to Foster Independence When a Loved One Has a Disability

Although it’s changing in today’s society, it was previously presumed that someone with a disability was completely dependent on others.

It’s quite common for people to think that because someone has a disability, they’re unable to complete daily tasks on their own. It’s this type of thinking that cultivates dependence on others. This can happen whether the disability is visible or invisible. For example, someone may assume that an individual in a wheelchair, which is a visible disability, cannot drive or get in or out of his or her car independently. When in reality, there are many individuals who use a wheelchair and drive on their own, as well as navigate a career, appointments and errands independently.

There is a similar assumption when someone has an invisible, but known disability, such as a brain injury. This often comes with an assumption that this individual may not be able to achieve daily tasks on their own. For example, someone with a brain injury may experience forgetfulness, and instead of doing tasks for them, it’s important to foster independence and help that individual with tools that may help them remember what they might otherwise forget. There are always tools that can be put in place to help foster independence for people with visible or invisible disabilities.

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Being diagnosed with an invisible illness, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), can affect the ability to be fully independent. Honouring independence is incredibly important. There will be tasks that a patient can no longer do on their own, which makes the ones they can still do independently that much more precious.

By helping your loved one or friend with a task, instead of completing it for them, you are helping to foster their independence regardless of their invisible illness or their disability — and they’ll be extremely grateful.

Below are a few ways to help someone achieve a daily task or goal, as opposed to doing it for them:

Accompany a patient while running errands.
Sometimes patients need others to run errands for them, which is particularly true on physically painful days or on days where the fatigue is overwhelming. Other times, you could accompany your friend for their errands. By doing so, the patient still has the independence of selecting their preference of groceries, for example, without being left to do the heavy lifting or driving to and from.

Cook together.
Instead of making a meal for someone (which is usually appreciated by patients), suggest making it together in the comfort of the patient’s home. They can still contribute to the meal, but do not have to be solely responsible for preparing it and cleaning up, which can take a lot of energy. This also fosters an opportunity for quality time with your friend or loved one.

Offer to carry something, don’t take it.
Carrying things for a patient with an invisible illness, or for an individual with a disability is almost always appreciated. That being said, taking their things without asking whether or not they need assistance, is one of the quickest ways to undermine their ability to be independent. It is important to ask someone if they need assistance, as opposed to assuming they do.

Strategize or problem-solve together.
Instead of doing something for your loved one, spend time with them strategizing or problem-solving the best way to achieve what they want on their own.

For other ways to help foster independence in the life of someone you love with an invisible illness or disability, talk to the person you’re supporting. It is incredibly helpful to know that others want to assist, not to do it for you and by having this conversation, you are likely helping to maintain the person’s independence as long as possible.

MORE: Six ways to get the most out of your doctor’s appointments 

Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Thanks for stopping by my column! My name is Charlene Marshall and I was diagnosed officially with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) on April 7 2016 after 13 months of various tests, hospitalizations and misdiagnoses, such as bronchitis and asthma. Due to my age, the specialist disclosed that he was unsure how the IPF would manifest itself in terms of progression, and whether it would be fast or slow and what the course of my illness might look like. Not much has changed since then, meaning there is still a lot that remains unknown, which is largely due to my age and how “rare” it is for someone under 30 to receive a diagnosis of IPF. That being said, a lot has changed for me in the time since diagnosis and I am looking forward to sharing some of those changes with you through this online platform, and I invite you along for the ride! Throughout this column I intend to chronicle the experience of living with an invisible, yet fatal disease as a young adult and share some stories about how IPF has impacted every aspect of my life, both good and bad, thus far. I plan on highlighting the challenges (and where I can, the positives…) that come with living with IPF and the impact on social and intimate relationships, finances, family dynamics, facing mortality, infertility, travelling, medication side effects, career goals and so much more as it arises for me as a “new” patient. I hope others’ with similar experiences will reach out as no story trumps any other, nor should any go unheard. For now, let me leave you with some personal details about who I am, outside of my IPF diagnosis. I grew up in a small town in south-western Ontario and still live within Ontario, although in a much bigger city. My favorite sport is/was underwater hockey (yes, it is a thing: look it up on YouTube), I love working with people, I work full-time in the Social Work/Social Services field, I am an avid learner filled with heaps of curiosity for the world, which lead me to start my Masters Degree in 2014. I am in the last few months of my Masters Degree and am looking forward to an upcoming trip to Australia more than I’ve looked forward to anything before. Welcome to the shambles and chaos that is my life!
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Thanks for stopping by my column! My name is Charlene Marshall and I was diagnosed officially with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) on April 7 2016 after 13 months of various tests, hospitalizations and misdiagnoses, such as bronchitis and asthma. Due to my age, the specialist disclosed that he was unsure how the IPF would manifest itself in terms of progression, and whether it would be fast or slow and what the course of my illness might look like. Not much has changed since then, meaning there is still a lot that remains unknown, which is largely due to my age and how “rare” it is for someone under 30 to receive a diagnosis of IPF. That being said, a lot has changed for me in the time since diagnosis and I am looking forward to sharing some of those changes with you through this online platform, and I invite you along for the ride! Throughout this column I intend to chronicle the experience of living with an invisible, yet fatal disease as a young adult and share some stories about how IPF has impacted every aspect of my life, both good and bad, thus far. I plan on highlighting the challenges (and where I can, the positives…) that come with living with IPF and the impact on social and intimate relationships, finances, family dynamics, facing mortality, infertility, travelling, medication side effects, career goals and so much more as it arises for me as a “new” patient. I hope others’ with similar experiences will reach out as no story trumps any other, nor should any go unheard. For now, let me leave you with some personal details about who I am, outside of my IPF diagnosis. I grew up in a small town in south-western Ontario and still live within Ontario, although in a much bigger city. My favorite sport is/was underwater hockey (yes, it is a thing: look it up on YouTube), I love working with people, I work full-time in the Social Work/Social Services field, I am an avid learner filled with heaps of curiosity for the world, which lead me to start my Masters Degree in 2014. I am in the last few months of my Masters Degree and am looking forward to an upcoming trip to Australia more than I’ve looked forward to anything before. Welcome to the shambles and chaos that is my life!

2 comments

  1. gil says:

    “By helping your loved one or friend with a task, instead of completing it for them, you are helping to foster their independence regardless of their invisible illness or their disability — and they’ll be extremely grateful”

    Excellent advice!

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Thank you so much for reading and comments on my columns, Gil. It is wonderful to hear from you, as always!
      I wrote this column and then chose to publicly share it with people who needed to be informed (ie. not do things for me) and also shared it with people who let me be independent, as a thank you to them. It was two-fold when I wrote it, and it was very therapeutic for me to write it and get it out.
      Chat soon,
      Charlene.

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