Helping Your Elderly Loved Ones Age Independently And Safely
Witnessing our parents or other loved ones age is a very complex experience. But it’s part of the human condition, the cycle of life, and we all do our best to adapt to the changes. At some point, this transition becomes more evident, and for many of us, taking care of our elderly loved ones becomes an integral role in our adult lives. Just like it is with parenthood, this comes with challenges, both physical and emotional, that we’re never quite entirely prepared for. The majority of elderly people prefer to stay in their own home for as long as possible, and maintaining their independence wherever possible is important to their well-being on many levels.
With their safety and quality of life having largely become our responsibility, there are going to be some decisions and changes we need to make in order to help them age with dignity and enjoy life. Here are the most important things to consider when striving to help your elderly parents, grandparents, or relatives age independently.
Taking Care of Emotional Well-Being
Aging is beautiful, and it’s not all downhill from here. But many seniors suffer from depression, and it’s our responsibility to address their emotional needs rather than just waving it off as “old age”. No matter what age we are, we’re not just aiming to survive – we’re looking to thrive and have a productive life, one which encourages the different aspects of our well-being that are all tightly bound together.
Your loved one needs companionship, hobbies, something to entice their imagination and challenge their mind. Talk with them, empathize, suggest to the new TV shows or hobbies they could try, give them a ride to visit an old friend or bring a friend over if they can’t leave the house. If they love reading but can’t see letters anymore, suggest audiobooks.
These are all things that encourage their happiness and satisfaction. There’s a lot to life at every stage, we just have to find solutions to make the things worth living for accessible.
Modifying the Living Environment
The home is the safe haven, and you want to ensure any potential hazards are removed so that this is where they have maximum independence. Here are some basic changes that you’ll want to make:
- Install rails in the bathroom, especially in the shower and next to the toilet so they have mobility help (if they only have a bathtub, it’s best to replace it with a walk-in shower)
- Remove tripping hazards: throw rugs, small pieces of furniture (such as magazine racks), cords, etc.
- Ensure that the floor is not polished to the extent of being slippery
- Lower kitchen and pantry shelves so that they can reach items without straining (or just keep the higher shelves empty)
- Store items at the waist-high range so they don’t have to bend over
- Add plenty of lighting (sensory lighting systems can be helpful)
- Remove breakable objects (China and glassware especially – replace the glass with plastic and Corian dishware)
- If possible, eliminate steps wherever you can
The modifications you make will depend on their condition, but it’s always better to be prepared in advance.
Being Prepared for Emergencies
Medical emergencies are a big concern for caregivers, but there are ways you can find peace of mind and ensure you’re both well-prepared for a potential mishap. We’re lucky to live in an age where we have access to technology that helps the elderly and those with chronic conditions maintain their independence.
A Personal Emergency Response System allows users to access professional help in case of an emergency with the push of a button. There are different systems to choose from, and many of them operate on a subscription basis, offering operator support when the button is pushed and automatically notifying you. Dedicate some time to finding a trusted system that your loved one won’t be wary of using, and read the reviews carefully – unfortunately, there are a lot of reviews that can’t be trusted, so watch out for the red flags.
Providing Access to Tools that will Encourage their Independence
Things like grocery shopping or buying medicine might seem like mundane everyday tasks, but doing these things independently is very beneficial to a senior’s self-esteem and the deeper levels of their wellbeing. It lets them take charge, maintain a sense of purpose, and participate in life just as they used to. This is beyond important, and you want to avoid coddling them – you might feel it’s easier if you did the grocery shopping yourself, but you shouldn’t take this away from them.
You can do some of these things together sometimes (make a day out of it!) or if their condition allows it (both mentally and physically) they might be able to go to the nearest store alone. In that case, teach them how to operate the grocery store scooter.
Many seniors today use computers, which puts them at a great advantage. Present them the tools that aid their independence – online grocery stores, catalogs featuring geriatric products, meal delivery services, etc. You are their source of information and you need to encourage them. If they’re not comfortable with using a computer, you can place orders together or simply arrange for the things to be delivered at the door – that will still mean a lot to them.
Lastly, no matter how difficult things may become or how scared you might be for their safety, let’s take a moment of gratitude: your loved one is still here, and you’re able to help them. It’s a tremendous advantage that they’re able to live independently, and you’re both participating in the cycle of life, uninterrupted. Take care of yourself as well, don’t ignore your emotional needs, and don’t hesitate to give yourself a pat on the back every once in a while.
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