The older adults in your life probably want to live as independently as possible for as long as possible, though it may not always be an option. As a relative or a caregiver, there are ways you can support an older adult in living independently for as long as they can.
Providing Support to Older Adults
When it comes to providing direct support, these are some of the best strategies you can use.
- Give considerate gifts. Giving gifts to the older adult in your life is a great regular activity, especially if you’re giving those gifts for a special event or holiday. It’s an opportunity to surprise your loved one with something thoughtful and generous, it’s a way to shake up their normal routine, and it’s a way to provide them with new items or experiences that can help them live more independently. DailyCaring’s gift ideas for senior women could help you here; some technology gifts are excellent at keeping older adults engaged and connected to the people they love the most, while mentally stimulating gifts like puzzles can keep older adults occupied and interested even when no one else is around.
- Visit regularly. Socialization is one of the most valuable strategies for staving off cognitive decline and improving mental health in older adults. If you have the time and energy for it, make sure you visit regularly. Even if this person can live totally independently, they’ll still appreciate you stopping by. Along these same lines, be aware of how much they’re still getting out and socializing with others such as neighbors or other family members. They might be capable of living independently, but not able to get out and interact with their neighbors and friends as much as they used to. You’ll want to have a sense for when it’s time to perhaps recommend assisted living, if only for the social aspect.
- Help with chores. To the extent you can, help out with chores. It’s a way to make the burden of living alone somewhat easier for the older adult in question, and it’s an opportunity for you to see which chores they struggle most with.
- Provide meal prep. For some older adults, cooking becomes difficult with age. They can resort to takeout or frozen meals that are simpler to prepare, but simpler and faster meals often come with the downside of being less nutritious. You can help out by providing some meals or helping them purchase and prepare fresh ingredients. As a bonus, making meals with them gives you something to do and talk about while you’re visiting with them, as well as time to pay attention to their abilities — are they still safe with a chopping knife? Can they safely operate a gas stove? Are they dropping things?
- Assist financially. Is this older adult capable of making responsible, independent financial decisions? If not, you can help them by providing financial insights and advice. In some cases, the best move may be to take over their finances completely. Otherwise, you can observe their spending patterns and help them understand the context of their purchases.
- Ensure adequate healthcare. Older adults aren’t always the best judge of their own health. They may be experiencing cognitive or physical decline so slowly they don’t realize it. You can help them by monitoring their health and making sure they get the healthcare they need by following up on their appointments, prescriptions, physical therapy, and other actions.
Encouraging Healthy Habits
You can also help older adults maintain their health for longer by encouraging healthy habits.
- Provide opportunities for exercise. Seniors may not be as mobile or agile as they used to be, but there are still plenty of ways for them to get physical exercise. Walking and water aerobics are great choices.
- Find social networks. Socialization is key for staving off dementia. Help them find like minded groups and individuals with whom they can interact regularly.
- Follow up on appointments and medical advice. Provide assistance with making and following up on medical appointments, and make sure they follow all medical recommendations they receive. Older adults may feel like they remember what the doctor said at their last visit, but may actually be remembering a visit from a number of years ago.
- Make safety recommendations. Keep an eye out for potential safety issues and make recommendations for how to resolve them. Are they struggling to get themselves up out of their chair more than they used to? Maybe it’s time for a lift chair, or an assist pole near their recliner. Are you showing up and finding the gas burner on the stove has been going all day? Are there ice issues with their deck, front steps, or sidewalk that might cause a bad fall?
Making Long-Term Plans
Even with these strategies in place, it’s a good idea to make long term plans for how this older adult is going to live, assuming you have the authority to do so.
- Know (and talk about) your options. Spend some time talking with this person about how they want to live as they get older. Do they want to maintain independence for as long as possible? At what point would they be prepared to live in an assisted living facility or something similar?
- Hire a caregiver. As this person needs more help, you may or may not be in a position to provide them care. Consider hiring a caregiver to take over some of the most important responsibilities.
- Monitor for signs of decline. Monitor your older adult closely for signs of cognitive impairment or decline. These can be subtle, and they tend to develop gradually, so take notes and recognize when these symptoms are growing worse so you can take appropriate interventions.
In many scenarios, older adults can live independently well into their later years. However, it’s important for them to get support when they need it and follow the healthy habits that can extend their lifespan and improve the quality of their lifestyle.
Speaks from heart, always too passionate and driven by emotions. Spins the words with kindness & sharpness, intriguing your ever-inscrutable minds.