Older adults often worry about losing their independence. Many of us are proud of the lives we’ve lived and don’t want to feel limited as we age. If you’re helping an aging loved one, remember that the wish for control over your own life is not one of the things that diminish over the years.
Maybe your mom has always grown her own flowers, but it’s getting hard for her to get down on the ground to tend them. You could set up a simple potting bench and a window box for her. Or maybe dad is having a hard time reading the print edition of Field & Stream? Get him a tablet and a news subscription so he can adjust the type size and brightness on the fly.
So, how can you help empower your loved one to continue doing the things they love?
Easy Fixes to the Home Environment
Nobody wants their home to look like a hospital. Luckily, there are a lot of simple things you can do that don’t look like a big deal but make a huge difference in terms of safety.
- Move stuff downstairs. If your loved one lives in a home with stairs, consider primarily using downstairs rooms. Make sure the bedroom is on the ground level.
- Modify showers. Showering is sometimes difficult for seniors. Older adults often have less balance than they used to. Handrails and shower chairs can make showering safer.
- Incorporate comfortable furniture. When we have difficulty getting up from sitting, a higher couch or chair can make it easier. Make sure your loved one has a few places to sit throughout the home. You don’t necessarily need to choose specific adaptive furniture, just look for regular couches and chairs that have higher, firmer seats. Make sure the seats aren’t too deep, so it’s easy to lean back.
- Remove tripping hazards and install handrails. Thick rugs and inconveniently-placed furniture can cause tripping. Go through your loved one’s home and remove potential hazards. Consider installing handrails in high-risk areas, like porch steps.
- Install outdoor lighting. As we age, it becomes difficult to see in the dark. Install outdoor lighting with an automatic timer to reduce fall risk.
- Ensure drawers, cabinets, and doors are easy to open. If your loved one has vintage drawers and doors, consider updating the hardware to make them easier to open. You can install tracks inside drawers that make them slide open with minimal effort. Re-hanging doors will ensure they open and close easily. This will make a huge difference if your loved one experiences frailty or arthritis.
“Hey Google,” “Hi Siri,” and “Alexa, Set an Alarm!”
Tablets, smartphones, and smart speakers can make life a lot easier for all of us, including older adults.
- Voice-activated devices. These can help seniors who are less comfortable with electronics. Voice-activated smart speakers can tell the time, set alarms, play music, and make phone calls. You can even connect them to other electronics in the home, like lights and thermostats. If your loved one is less mobile, they might appreciate using a voice command to turn the lights off before bed. (If you’re not a gadget enthusiast, go with whatever seems easiest to set up. The big tech companies–Amazon, Google, Apple–all offer robust support for their smart speakers.)
- Phones with large buttons. (Sometimes old school just works.)
- Tablets for video calls.
- E-readers: for reading books with large fonts.
Professional in-home caregiverscan go a long way towards helping aging adults remain independent. If your loved one is still mobile and active, they might enjoy weekly help with routine chores. If your loved one has higher support needs, more frequent help may be necessary. Home care providers offer a variety of services, including:
- Weekly laundry help. This could include washing, drying, and putting away laundry, including bedding.
- Housework. Yardwork, vacuuming, dishes, and taking out the trash can all be strenuous for older adults.
- Meal preparation. If your loved one has difficulty cooking, they could have someone prepare their meals. If someone prepares meals weekly, your loved one can heat up the prepared meals as they need them.
- Administrative help. This could include sorting mail and scheduling appointments.
- Grocery delivery. A care provider can shop for your loved one. You could also arrange for a grocery delivery service.
- Companionship. A professional caregiver can support the emotional and mental health of seniors, as well as physical health.
Some people need support with direct care tasks, such as dressing and hygiene tasks. Home care providers can support these needs as well. If your loved one shows signs of needing some help around the house, start with a few hours a week of general support.
Many older adults are reluctant to accept support at first. In reality, most of us could use support as we go about our lives. By normalizing support, you’ll help your loved one become comfortable accepting help—this will empower them to advocate for their own needs as those needs change.
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