As the baby boomer generation gets older, our generation will see the population of senior citizens double. More and more people are changing their lifestyles to accommodate an aging family member in the home, and that’s a reality that will only continue to grow. Perhaps your family is already making arrangements to help care for an aging grandparent.
Being able to grow old at home or “aging in place” is what most seniors would prefer. But the decline in health, physical mobility, and cognitive ability that comes with aging can make it difficult for them to remain at home.
As a family member, there are a number of simple yet significant ways you can help your family make growing old at home an enriching experience for your loved ones. Here are some things to consider in meeting the basic needs of daily life for the elderly.
1. Functional mobility
While retirement is a time of relaxation for many older adults and seniors, it can be challenging for them to enjoy life when their physical abilities are becoming increasingly limited. If not handled properly, mobility issues can greatly affect their quality of life, which may then have a negative impact on their mental and emotional health, too.
When seniors are caught up in the anxiety of losing the ability to move safely around and outside the house, it may prevent them from taking up new hobbies and staying active. So it’s important to provide them with a safe environment and with the assistance they need to move around without risking accidents and injury.
This can be as simple as encouraging your family to make safety modifications around the house to help your elderly loved one perform daily activities such as getting in and out of bed and using the shower or bathtub. Depending on their individual needs, there are also other equipment and aids like walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters that can help improve their mobility at home.
While healthy eating is necessary at any age, its importance grows as you get older. One key thing to keep in mind, however, is that needs and habits are likely to change with age.
Having a balanced diet is absolutely necessary for seniors to maintain their energy levels and get the nutrients they need. Nonetheless, what is considered a balanced diet may differ according to age. For instance, seniors usually need fewer calories and carbohydrates while their need for more fiber and calcium grows. Their appetite may grow smaller as well.
When it comes to meal preparation, home-cooked meals are definitely the best, but not all seniors have the interest or the ability to cook for themselves. This is an area where anyone with a will to learn can contribute. Even if you don’t know how to cook, this is a great opportunity to learn — many grandparents have a lifetime of wisdom to share in the kitchen, so cooking with or for them could turn into a culinary masterclass. If you don’t have the time to help prepare a meal every day, consider involving them in meal prepping for the week and making a plan to cook in batches.
It can also be difficult for older people to keep track of their nutritional needs every single day. If being involved in home cooking isn’t an option, think about signing them up for meal delivery programs such as Meals on Wheels, or diving into the art of meal delivery yourself.
As routine hygiene tasks become increasingly demanding, seniors may begin to neglect or struggle with personal care. These tasks can include brushing and styling hair, shaving, using the toilet, and showering or bathing. Yet, some of them may remain unwilling to seek help — for them, receiving assistance with bathing and other grooming activities can feel like a degrading experience at first.
This doesn’t mean your family should leave them alone or simply insist on helping them without letting them have their say in the matter. It might help asking questions about who they’d prefer to assist them. Perhaps they prefer having a woman instead of a man, or a particular family member doing it. Communicating about it openly and taking their choices into consideration can help them feel more in control of their situation and, therefore, more willing to accept help from others.
It will help for your family to define a daily routine and then stick to it. Doing specific activities at certain times of the day in a familiar manner will allow older people to know what to expect. This can build trust and help your loved one relax.
4. Social connection
Sometimes, older people need more time and attention than physical assistance. In fact, those seniors who are able to live more independently than others can be the ones who are most likely to become neglected emotionally and experience social isolation.
Regardless of our age, we are all social creatures. Naturally, social connection is key to healthy aging.
When older people experience prolonged loneliness and isolation, it can impact their physical and mental health. Creating a feeling of connectedness and belonging within their families and the larger community is crucial in helping our seniors maintain their vitality as well as their own sense of value and identity.
Set aside time to regularly connect with older family members and include them in trips and errands out of the house. Introduce them to community activities around the area. If they’re up for it, you can even encourage them to take up a class and learn a new skill such as cooking, painting, or creative writing — or go with them, yourself. Skills classes can lead to more social interaction and new friendships in addition to building their self-confidence.
Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid to look for help
It can be tiring and difficult to assist and support your loved one when your own life gets too busy, and it is okay to turn to others for additional help during those times. Be honest with your family about how the arrangements are working out and the toll the extra care is taking on everyone. You may consider inviting your family to gather once a week to check in with one another about schedules, needs, communication needs, and emotions.
If you need more support, engage a few trusted relatives, friends, and neighbors to help out with different tasks throughout the day. Your parish community can also provide a good source of encouragement and assistance.
On top of that, there are many in-home care services that are available at affordable rates across the country. In addition to the basic areas of daily living listed above, these services can also assist with money planning, homemaking, running errands, and medication management. The Area Agency on Aging is a good source for more information on the various services available locally. Other places to search include local and state offices on aging, social services, or from trained professionals who specialize in caring for the elderly.