The Benefits of a Sense of Control

By Karen Cifala

We all know that losing control is a part of the aging process. Whether they are physical or mental or social losses, they all affect our ability to function independently and put our freedoms at jeopardy. Whether we are watching our parents age or are aging ourselves, we wonder, “What can I expect and how will I handle the changes?”

You might already be experiencing some of the physical and mental changes that age brings such as:

Vision and hearing issues,

Less ability to move easily, less flexibility, and less energy in general,

Memory problems,

Less control over emotions.


Social losses come with some of the physical and mental losses that limit a person’s ability to participate in social outings. As time goes on, sometimes the social losses just happen, with peers aging and friends passing on. This loss of contact or independence can be a source of great frustration or feelings of sadness or uselessness. It is common for people to feel fear, anger, guilt, or confusion with this loss of independence. For some, the expectation that aging family members and friends may not always be available is scary, and it’s hard to imagine how they will manage on their own. Others might take their anger out on loved ones; still others feel guilty for needing help and don’t want to be considered a burden.

Your attitude about aging has a huge influence on the outcome. Highly influential are childhood experiences and observations of parents’ and grandparents’ attitudes and approaches to aging, as well as their mastery of or failures with life experiences. Research results show that adults later in life who feel a high sense of control tend to be better off in areas of health and well-being. Those who feel a lower sense of control may be at greater risk for depression and anxiety, and may practice fewer healthful behaviors like exercise and good nutrition.

The notion that one can “take control” over the aging process is widespread today. The key message is that although our aging is greatly influenced by our genetics, a large component is determined by our lifestyle choices and behaviors. There is a link between having “a sense of control” and better health, and it has been proven in beneficial health-related behaviors like physical and mental exercises.

A “sense of control” occupies a pivotal role throughout your life, and can affect your behaviors. Having set goals as to how you want to age in place, as well as having “The Talk” with your family, is part of being in control. Research shows that if you believe you are in control over the outcomes there is better reported health, with fewer and less severe symptoms and faster recoveries. On the flip side, though, if you were in an institutionalized setting like a nursing home, relinquishing control might be less frustrating, and can simplify adaptation for those with reduced capacities.

Adjusting as the events occur greatly depends on your attitude about relying on others, and may be an indicator of how you adjust later in the aging process. Some people much prefer to manage without help when they can. Accepting help from family members can be difficult. From personal experience, it seems there is always one family member who will be challenging. An article I read said, “Often well-intentioned children end up with a power struggle between themselves.” So true! And even “well-meaning” relatives or siblings might unintentionally intimidate others by trying to assume control of the situation to “help.” As you grow older, you might be surprised at how your attitude might change about accepting help. People who adapt to accepting help will have more chances to build new and positive experiences.

A word of good advice: If one of your parents is still capable of making decisions, you need to let her/him be in control. Like it or not, that’s the way it is. If they ask for help, give suggestions and let the final decision be theirs. The key here is “help,” as in,  you are helping but you are not the one in control. You may also need to look for an unbiased opinion like an elder-care manager or an elder-care attorney.

Suggestions for coping with your loss of independence:

Be Patient. Acknowledge your loss and how it is affecting your life.

Practice Self-Acceptance. Frustration at the loss of independence is natural: it is not a sign of personal failure.

Recognize Your Feelings. Don’t put yourself down when you feel sad and frustrated.

Remain Open. Keep an open mind and discuss suggestions from others to make your life easier.

Pursue New experiences. Try a new activity or a new hobby that you can physically or mentally do

Stay Connected. In whatever way you can with friends, family, church, and neighbors.

Volunteer. Volunteering keeps you intellectually and socially stimulated and makes you feel useful.

Seek Help. If your quality of life is diminishing, seek help from your most trusted family or friends and make sure you are part of the decision process.

Accept Help. Others may feel good about helping you find the right balance between accepting and living independently.

Much research has been done on the psychology of aging, and has established that expectations make a difference, and a sense of control is extremely important. There is a delicate balance between knowing when to persist and when to switch gears. And though some things are not in our control, we are fortunate that there are lots of people and organizations prepared to support us as we age.


Karen Cifala is a SRES Realtor for Remax Roots in Berryville. She specializes in working with aging adults transitioning into retirement. She would love to hear from you and can be reached at 303-817-9374 or email her at