By Andrew Atkinson
Most people list their independence among the things that are most important to them. Small children are proud of the day that they learn to tie their shoelaces, teenagers enjoy the freedom that comes with passing their driving test, and senior adults seek to retain their independence for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, as we age we sometimes have to fight to remain independent. Those who are caring for an aging loved one are likely familiar with this power struggle. It can take some creativity and gentle persuasion to help a loved one remain safe and independent at home. These are a few easy tips a family caregiver can use to help extend their freedom.
Lists are a valuable resource at any age. They are even more important for those with failing memories and those that have minds so full of other information that they can no longer remember small tasks or apppointments.
If you notice a pattern of small incomplete or overlooked tasks each time you visit your aging relative, supply them with a list of objectives that can keep their home in good order. Perhaps these things have been important to them in the past, like watering plants, recording a TV show, or daily routines that are now easily forgotten. Lists are also valuable for gentle reminders of where things are as well as when appointments are scheduled.
Show them how to mark out a task when it is completed and ask them to see to each task on the list before the next visit. This doesn't just remind them to do the laundry, dust the coffeetable and clean out the fridge. It also brings their limitations to the surface and aids in keeping track of any gradual changes in their abilities over time.
Supply the Required Equipment
Surprisingly, there are a wide variety of household aids that are available to make life easier. Learn what an aging relative considers his or her restrictions to be, then research what is available that will help them to get around those limitations. It is important to keep a realistic perspective and not jump to conclusions too soon. As family, they trust and want this help to maintain their independence in their own home for as long as possible.
Useful daily living aids that can help an older adult look after their home include reaching tools, grabbers, doorknob grips, faucet turning aids, remote controls, and clocks and phones with large numbers for easier visibility.
Check in Regularly
If an aging relative is not coping particularly well, the issue can be resolved quickly with proper awareness. Try to visit as often as your schedule allows, and do not space out visits too much. If you visit for an hour each morning and an hour each evening, then any issues will be easily noticed, as opposed to stopping in twice a week for six hours, which can allow problems to build up in between. Visits that are too far apart also open the possibility of more serious situations going unaddressed, such as a fall, injury, urgent home repair, or spills on the floor, etc.
Network with Neighbors
It is likely to find that younger people in their neighborhood will be all too happy to help with basic tasks, or at least to keep an eye on the house from a distance. The problem is that many older people do not connect with their younger neighbors and vice versa, leaving those community members with no idea that someone could need their support. A simple request for help while providing the neighbors with contact information can prevent a potentially dangerous situation that may go unnoticed otherwise.
On their behalf, visit a younger neighbor and introduce yourself and the situation. Do not ask the neighbor to do any household chores. Instead ask if they will look out for your mom or dad when it is convenient for them. It can be surprising how much some people, especially long-time neighbors, are willing to help.
Consider Hired Help
If a senior adult is struggling to look after their home, but does not necessarily need to be in a dedicated care facility, then hiring a housekeeper or looking for a home health aide can allow them to enjoy life at home with less responsibility.
Hiring a professional in-home caregiver can reduce the pressure, while helping aging relatives retain their independence.
Remember to consider their unique and individual circumstances as their need for assistance increases. There will be a time when alternative care arrangements are likely to be necessary, for the benefit of all involved. Until then, enable them to retain as much freedom in their own home as possible.
Andrew Atkinson is managing director of Mobility Smart, a UK ecommerce website with a vast product range covering mobility and daily living aids and many other products aimed at making life easier and higher quality for older adults.