Let’s face it, our bodies have an expiration date. A time limit where our physical self gradually stops working the way it had in the past. This requires us to make changes to our environment, add some safety measures, and learn to use specialized devices, and that’s for the lucky ones who are able to stay home.
The concept of aging in place can have different interpretations, often depending on which side of the walker you are standing. Your older family member may express the wish to stay in their home, hoping to avoid a move to a nursing home or assisted living facility.
The aging process necessitates kind, appropriate and personalized planning, often exactly what a loving family specializes in. What follows provides some concrete, doable tasks and enhancements that can create a more risk-free environment for your aging loved one.
Decide Where to Live
A family’s first goal should be to consider with your elder where he or she wishes to live. Might their current home be nearly ideal or is another locale holding that potential? Find these answers within the realistic perimeters of financial, physical, social and possibly religious distinctions. Explore service agencies, skilled individuals and in-home adaptations as you design this plan.
Start by Preventing Falls
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention falls are the number one cause of severe, even fatal injuries for seniors. Home modifications can focus on both the current environment and anticipated needs. Look to avoid falls by decluttering, installing night lights, replacing slippery rugs and removing tripping hazards. Focus on the bathroom environment with a shower chair, handheld shower head and non-skid shower mat.
Prepare a detailed medication list, complete with the names, descriptions, time of date and dosing, and even a picture of each medication. Pre-filled medication boxes, such as for a week or month at a time, provide for safe self-dispensing.
Emergency preparedness actions can also be enacted, much like for any residence. Basic needs on hand should include non-perishable food, water, flashlights and batteries. Consider simple first aid supplies as well as personal protective supplies including masks and gloves. Many seniors benefit both in function and in spirit from wearing a personal emergency alert device.
Teach Safe Movements
Does his or her home environment promote safe physical activity throughout the day, within physical limitations? Simple walking, possibly with assistive devices, can be encouraged. Self-exercise programs, safely from a chair, can energize, strengthen and assist with multiple physical functioning and mental stimulation. Providing a few simple exercise-focused items such as minimal pound hand weights and foot stationary petals can be just the answer.
Here is a great opportunity for the younger family members to play with their elder distantly, sharing exercise moves safely or mentally challenging games on the phone. Consider how a child can be filmed doing fun exercises and this “show” can be shared with your elder on a device like an Heirloom video book, which is available on this website. Your elder can watch this show daily knowing their muscles and bond with their grandchild is strengthened.
Future and Forward Thinking
The rest of the solutions lay within your family unit. Have all your family members been informed and then recruited into this plan? Your goal to maintain your loved ones’ sense of self and dignity can be realized as you ask for their opinions, offer realistic choices and remember that at the root of all of us is our desire for a quality life. Maintain their sense of familiarity with personal objects as well as choice and autonomy. Pancakes for dinner is just that demonstration of self-control, choice, independence and happiness. And that’s how a loving family cares for their elders.
Thinking about this topic, what I’m most perplexed by is the inevitably we share. We hope that we live a long life, measured in years that pass into the “elderly” classification, hoping we become elderly ourselves. Our lifetime of experiences and education should create a natural elevation in value rather than disregard because of some natural physical frailties.
*Dr. Randee Bloom, RN, MBA, PhD is a retired nurse and healthcare administrator. She has a PhD in nonprofit management and serves on the board of several national healthcare nonprofits. Dr. Bloom is a national volunteer ambassador for AARP and two of her children, Ashley and Zack, are the founders of Heirloom. Dr. Bloom's own mother is in her 90's and is forced to remain isolated to protect her health as COVID-19 remains uncontrolled.*