Growing old can bring a range of issues for people, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is common knowledge that old age comes with health problems such as reduced mobility, sight and hearing problems, but it is often the case that the mental and emotional health of the elderly is a second thought and therefore neglected. Looking after our elderly loved ones is about more than their physical health, and they deserve to spend their golden years happy, loved, and comfortable. Research suggests that a third of seniors are lonely, which has been connected to other health issues such as heart attack, stroke, and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. There are many ways we can be there for our senior family members, to ensure that they can live their lives as fully and as happily as possible.
Understand Their Needs
The key to caring for a senior family member is knowing what their needs are. Ensure you are aware of any medical conditions they have and the impact of them on your loved one’s life. Do they require medication? If so, how much and when; you may have to take responsibility for ensuring they always have a supply, and that it is taken correctly. It may be that a medical condition affects their mobility, in which case, you may have to make provisions or adaptions. Some seniors may have problems with memory or cognitive function, so you will have to bear this in mind and take responsibility for things they may forget about, such as appointments, or even more basic things such as remembering to eat.
Help Them Retain Independence
Many elderly people do not wish to have someone else do everything for them. At a time when they may be experiencing various problems, it may be that they want to retain a sense of pride and independence. Where possible, you should try to help them achieve this. This could include the following:
- Preparing meals for them
- Helping with bigger household chores
- Fetching groceries and other essentials for them
- Organizing or automating their finances
Many seniors find it difficult to get out and about, resulting in feelings of isolation and loneliness. You can help reduce these feelings and improve their wellbeing by ensuring that they are, where possible, able to move around either independently, or with assistance. Some seniors may be able to get around quite well but may benefit from a walking stick or frame if they tire easily or have impaired balance. Some may have more profound mobility issues and could require the aid of a wheelchair or mobility scooter. While mobility scooters are good for those who wish to venture out independently, wheelchairs are often a better choice for those who require supervision, or for traveling. You are not only limited to manual wheelchairs for traveling, as there are also electric wheelchairs available which are powered yet still fairly easy to travel with.
There often comes a point when a senior person’s home is no longer well suited to their needs, which can potentially mean making difficult decisions. Where possible, provisions should be made to allow your loved one to stay in their home, as this is usually the most comforting place for them to be. It may be that you can provide adaptations or aids to enable this such as:
- Time and strength saving appliances, for example, dishwashers or automated vacuum cleaners
- Alarms in case of emergency
- Regular visits, either from yourself or a hired carer or nurse
- Fitting or adapting equipment such as showers, stairlifts and rails
If it is decided that the best option for your elderly family member is to leave their home, there are different options to choose from. It may be that downsizing their house will suffice if they can’t manage a large house, or a house with stairs. If isolation is a concern, there are many senior communities which offer social communities, or assisted living facilities for those who need a little more support. It may be that your loved one requires more intensive or ongoing support; in which case, a retirement or nursing home is sometimes the best option to keep them safe and well.
The Gift of Time
With loneliness being a major problem for many elderly people, one of the best things we can do for them is to simply be there. Spend time talking with them or doing activities with them that they enjoy. There is much research that shows the benefit of listening to music in old age, especially for those who have dementia or similar conditions. Quality time is beneficial to both your loved one, and to you, but it is important to remember to be calm, patient, and understanding to their needs, especially if they require additional help or have problems with their memory.
Look After Yourself
There is a well-known saying, ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup.’ This is very true when it comes to caring for others. If you do not look after yourself and ensure that you are healthy, rested and in a good place mentally, you will struggle to provide anyone else with the support that they need. Make sure that you take care of yourself by eating well, getting enough sleep, and seeking support should you need it. There is nothing wrong with asking for help or taking breaks when you need to, as being tired or stressed could make you short-tempered, forgetful, or even make you ill yourself. Make sure you set yourself boundaries and stick to them.
The most important thing to remember when caring for senior family members is that they are people too, and their feelings should always be taken into consideration. Never assume or make decisions without speaking to them about it, or if they are unable to make important decisions for themselves, ensure you think honestly about what is best for them and what they would choose if they could.