8 Ways to Help Seniors Maintain Their Independence
It’s difficult to watch a parent or loved one progress in years and experience deterioration in either physical or mental health, and in some cases both. We spend a large portion of our lives on the receiving end of care from a parent, and it can be unsettling and stressful when roles become reversed and a child becomes the caregiver for a parent.
Within the next 30 years, the population of Americans over the age of 65 will reach almost 89 million. Correspondingly, the number of children who will be called upon to provide care for a loved one will more than double over the same period of time. Almost 90% of those families would choose to have a loved one live as independently as possible, stay in a current home, and avoid a move to assisted living or a nursing home.
Making it possible for a loved one to age-in-place and live independently can be a challenge, but it is not impossible. The key is planning and preparation. Here are some of the tips for helping you and your family prepare.
- Make the Home Senior-Safe
The most common injuries to seniors living at home are the result of falls. Falls can cause serious injury which could result in long-term complications requiring a move. Many falls can be prevented by making minor, inexpensive adjustments to the home environment. There are resources online to help you address some of the most important ways to minimize the risk of falls. The Center for Disease Control offers a free online checklist and brochure here.
This is the perfect time to go through the house and downsize, getting rid of anything that it no longer used. In the long run, this will save everyone time down the road. It can be challenging when a loved one’s belongings carry sentimental value. Don’t force the issue. The idea is to assist your loved one in removing clutter, not insist they get rid of all but the barest material possessions. Tackle one area of the home at a time. The garage or attic is a great place to start. Many possessions can be a lively source of conversation with a loved one. Be open to listening as you sort through what should stay and what should go. If your loved one puts up a lot of resistance, leave it alone and talk about it again at another time, or simply begin sorting and organizing so that you have some sense of what is there.
- Take Advantage of Technology
Smart phones and tablets are not the only ways that technology has evolved. There are some amazing systems out there that won’t require a second mortgage. Medical and life alerts can be a valuable way to help assure the safety of a loved one. If you need to take it a step further, there are plenty of real-time camera systems that allow remote monitoring and can be easily installed to make sure your loved one is safe. You may even consider installing an alarm system programmed to automatically call the police or fire department in the event of a break-in or fire.
- In-Home Services
Many families care for their loved ones without help from agencies or outside providers. Larger families often work on a rotating schedule to provide care for an aging or sick parent or loved one. It can be exhausting and both emotionally and financially draining to serve as the primary caregiver for a loved one. Whether a family opts to hire an agency to provide care depends on many factors, including economic factors. However, most agencies, including CareAparent™, offer a free consultation or assessment to identify the services needed and the cost for care. It is definitely worthwhile to take the time to find out, particularly where medical services are required. These services are often covered by insurance or Medicare.
- Create a Resource List
If there is one thing we have learned from our own loved ones and clients, it is the necessity of having a ready list of people and companies to call when you need them. A friend who provides care for her mother recently shared that when her mother’s sprinkler system malfunctioned, she had no idea who to call. When she finally hired a company to make the repairs, the company over-charged her mother by more than $200.00. Having a resource list in advance reduces the risk of this type of exploitation and saves times later on. We recommend you have a list of service companies that included: a plumber; an electrician; an appliance repair company; a chimney/duct cleaning company; a carpet cleaning company; lawn and snow removal services; and a handyman. I can’t help but point out here that CareAparent™ has a Care for the Home program that helps put families in touch with the right companies. Feel free to call us about it!
- Update Health Care Directives and Wills
Having a Health Care Directive can be critical if your loved one suffers an accident or injury, giving you the ability to assist in making decisions about their care. Many states allow “surrogates” to make medical decisions for a loved one who cannot communicate their wishes, but Minnesota is not one of them. Contact an attorney for a personalized Health Care Directive or access a free online Health Care Directive here. In the same vein, it can be equally important to have a will that is current. In the event your loved one passes away, it assures that your loved one’s wishes for the transfer and ownership of property and possessions are understood and honored.
- Keep Important Information in a One Place
“Important Information” includes names and phone numbers for physicians and hospitals, insurance information, a copy of a Health Care Directive and a will, a medications inventory, and banking information. It would be wise to include with the information titles to property and vehicles, as well as documents and contact information for any lawyers, accountants, businesses, or spiritual advisors. This information should either be stored in a safe place such as a safe or lock box, or a safety deposit box at a bank. At the same time, a list of important or emergency phone numbers should be created and posted in a visible place in the home, such as the front of the refrigerator taped next to the telephone. Be sure to include a number for the doctor, local police, poison control and the electric and gas company on this list. The Family Caregiver Alliance has a fabulous worksheet you can use as a tool to help gather information here.
- Be Observant
Be alert to subtle or sudden changes in mood, appetite, memory, or weight. These changes may signal something more serious and scheduling a doctor visit early may prevent further problems or injury later. It may be helpful to keep a journal to watch for slow declines. You may find yourself referring to journal entries that provide a physician with valuable information about a physical condition.
© 2015 CareAparent™
All rights reserved. No part or portion of this article can be reprinted without the express written permission of the CareAparent.™
Lisa McLeod-Lofquist is an attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota and co-founder of CareAparent™, a home care agency for seniors. Contact Lisa by email at lisa.lofquist@careAparent.com.