• older people;
  • autonomy;
  • independence;
  • nursing care

The principles of promoting autonomy and independence underpin many approaches to improving the quality of nursing care for older people in whatever setting, and are in line with wider developments in health care such as the Patient's Charter. However, these concepts require careful definition if nursing practices which might promote autonomy and independence are to be identified. Although the generalizability of the research-based literature in this field is limited by a focus upon older people in continuing-care settings, a review of the literature found a number of indicators associated with attempts to promote patient autonomy and independence. These were grouped into the following categories: systems of care delivery which promote comprehensive individualized assessment and multidisciplinary care planning; attempts to encourage patients/clients to participate in decisions about their care; patterns of communication which avoid exerting power and control over patients/clients and attempts to modify the environment to promote independence and minimize risk. It is suggested that the review identifies a number of principles for nursing practice which can be applied in a range of care settings in order to promote the autonomy and independence of older people.