How to Foster a Sense of Control Among Seniors

February 10, 2021

How to Foster a Sense of Control Among Seniors

It has been 21 months since the U.S. went into Pandemic lockdown. Can you recall those first few weeks and months, when nothing seemed to be in your control? Your choices of what to do and where to go were suddenly limited. Some were forced to make choices about living environments or job situations they never would have made.

Yes, we’re about to point out the silver lining.

Through that experience, the majority of people have a more authentic understanding of how it feels to lose the ability to exert their own will. We spend much of our lives shaping an independent, well controlled life, so a reversal of this can feel utterly stifling. In addition to contributing to anxiety and other bad feelings, losing a sense of control is actually proven to contribute to the loss of independence among seniors. 

Pandemic or none, it is natural for adults to eventually lose choices over small and large parts of their lives. But a sense of control can be fostered, regardless of one’s physical or cognitive abilities.

To foster a sense of control, care teams should take a pulse on these three factors:

  • Sleep
  • Routines
  • Choices

Get Enough Sleep

Scientists have proven that sleep is beneficial, overall, to the immune system and well-being. One study showed that sleep efficacy – or the belief that one can get a good night’s sleep – is associated with better control beliefs. Sleep patterns can change over one’s lifetime, so focus less on the number of hours of sleep achieved and check that older adults feel well rested during the day. If getting a good night’s sleep is a challenge, consider adding an extra walk around the block or trying a repetitive bedtime routine. If those things don’t work, talking to a physician is a good idea to address it.

Keep Routines

It may seem obvious, but knowing what to expect can reduce anxiety and foster a calm outlook. Routines build a sense of control because the brain does not have to make a choice, the work has already been done, and there are few surprises. Rituals as simple as making a cup of coffee after morning walk, or calling a loved one on a designated day, can foster feelings of security and independence. People tend to veer away from routine when they are dealing with anxiety or stress factors. It’s important to keep some things “sacred” to maintain a sense of control.

Respect Choices

While there may be a natural loss of control over more and more things, help older adults focus on what they can control, and allow them to exert that control. Be sure to ask. Do they still want to cook for themselves? Great. Do they want to skip the veggies or sit in the sun instead of the shade? What’s the harm? If there are no medical or safety risks, these day-to-day choices should be respected and encouraged.

While most of us are still crawling out of the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, care teams today can draw from their own experiences to remember how isolating and frustrating it can feel to lose a sense of control. Working with aging adults to foster that autonomy can be fairly easy, and may even reduce stress on caregivers themselves.


A sense of control is scientifically proven to impact independence among older adults. Service providers across the U.S. have adopted PFMIpro to track this and other risk factors, empowering professional caregivers to deliver appropriate support and data-driven updates to care teams and loved ones. With real time reporting capabilities, agency administrators can also track and report critical performance metrics to funding sources. Connect with the experts and request a demo at