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Loss of independence: Impacts and prevention

CISSS de la Montérégie-Centre

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Download the brochure on the loss of independence: Impacts and prevention

In the last century, life expectancy in Canada has increased to 80 years old for men and to 84 years old for women

However, when we talk about ageing, we also want to think about ageing well and maintaining independence in a secure environment.

While the loss of physical and cognitive autonomy is associated with ageing, it is possible to prevent, delay or diminish the impact of such losses on individuals. It is essential that seniors and their loved ones receive adequate information about health and safe environments and receive the services necessary for their needs. 

Moreover, loss of autonomy is not only a question of advanced age; it can also be the result of an illness, a handicap or an accident or the consequence of a physiological, anatomical or psychological problem.


Signs of loss of autonomy

Many people are not sufficiently prepared for the onset of loss of autonomy and as a result, the experience can be extremely difficult for the person and his or her family and friends. It is essential to detect early warning signs in order to be proactive in preventing loss of autonomy or reducing its impacts.

Physical signs of loss of autonomy:

  • Difficulties with balance and flexibility that can be the result of weakening muscles. The use of certain medications can also contribute to disturbances in the sense of balance and spatial orientation.  Such problems can put a person at risk for falls. 
  • Hearing and visual loss, which can lead to increased social isolation and security issues.
  • Changes in eating habits or the loss of interest in food.
  • Abnormal tiredness, sudden loss of energy.
  • Presence of bruises or fractures may indicate a problem of reduced mobility, memory loss or mistreatment.


Behavioural signs of loss of autonomy:

  • Indications of memory loss – increased forgetfulness, pots left on lit burners on the stove, getting lost although in familiar places, etc.
  • Incoherent speech, repetition of anecdotes or information.
  • Difficulties in carrying out personal hygiene and atypical negligence of clothing or wearing clothes inappropriate for the social situation or the weather.
  • Mood swings, feeling depressed, feelings of persecution.
  • Self-isolation, loss of interest in social activities and an increasingly inactive lifestyle.
  • Change in routines : Sudden and/or increased deliveries of pharmaceutical products or perishable goods such as food
  • Recent history of traffic violations, fender-benders or accidents. Difficulty in estimating distances. Unusually long time for habitual  journeys.
  • Getting lost on regular routes.


How to maintain or prevent a loss of autonomy

The good news is that there are simple actions that you can take to regain control over your loss of independence, slowing it down or even preventing it.

  • Choose to take care of yourself and take part in decisions that concern you.
  • Get regular medical check-ups.
  • Get your hearing and sight checked. 
  • Use medication as prescribed by your medical practitioner.
  • Use mobility aids such as canes or walkers as recommended.
  • Keep active physically:  Limit the amount of time spent sitting around. Walk as much as possible.  Do varied physical activities that emphasize balance, strength training and moderate aerobic exercise.   It is important to check with your doctor before beginning a new activity or exercise programme. 
  • Make sure your home is safe by reducing risks for falls and other injuries.
  • Engage in life: Participate in group activities, socialize with friends and family or volunteer.
  • Stimulate your brain by taking courses, doing puzzles or creative activities such as painting or gardening.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Refrain from the use of tobacco.


If, in spite of everything you are doing, your limitations are already preventing you from caring for yourself or enjoying your usual activities, local health and social services and community organizations offer services to support you and your family and friends.  


Don’t know the services in your area?

Health and social services in Québec
Establishments offering services to Autochtones and northern populations
Non-profit organisations
Health and social services in Canada
  • Government of Canada
  • Alberta
  • Colombie-Britannique
  • Manitoba
  • Nouveau-Brunswick
  • Terre-Neuve
  • Territoires du Nord-Ouest
  • Nouvelle-Écosse
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Île-du-Prince-Édouard
  • Saskatchewan
  • Territoires du Yukon


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