As the baby boomer population continues to age, the number of seniors retiring from their active roles continues to increase. This places an economic burden on the government but also places a demand for care upon their families and friends. Aging comes with its fair share of challenges to seniors and their carers (most of whom are adult children and spouses). This includes changes in health and physical and cognitive ability. In turn, the latter affects their mental and emotional well-being and quality of life. Further, they cease to be independent and start to fully rely on other people for assistance with daily living activities. In that case, it becomes clear that taking care of older adults becomes a necessity.
During this time, it is important for carers to understand the complex and diverse demands of caring for aging parents and pursue the most befitting options for them. As they age, the elderly are affected by a host of challenges including:
- High risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, heart disease, and others.
- Chronic pain.
- Loss of cognitive and physical abilities which hinder their mobility.
- Loss of independence.
- Social isolation and loss of relationships.
Fortunately, as a carer or an elderly, getting informed well in advance will help you take the necessary steps to prepare for this period in time.
15 Tips for taking care of older adults
This article gives you 15 valuable tips to help you prepare for a quality life for you or your loved ones in the golden years. These tips include the tools, resources, and options available to seniors and their caregivers.
1. Know how much care is needed
Caregiving for older adults can be so diverse and complex and the needs of the elderly are difficult to anticipate. Aging is a natural and inevitable process. A good percentage of seniors above the age of 65 will need care and support. The reason being they are highly likely to suffer from long-term mental or physical health conditions associated with aging. The right questions you need to ask to assess how much care you or your loved one is likely to need are:
- What are the changes and challenges that seniors experience as they age?
- Who assumes the decision-making role? Is the senior capable of making or actively being involved in decision-making? Or is it time to appoint someone to make decisions on his/her behalf?
- Who should be approached to determine how much care a senior requires?
In most cases, a senior’s family or personal doctor will be considered first. In that case they are asked for advice about issues such as accommodation, healthcare, nutrition, etc. Additionally, they’ll need to know other types of existing medical conditions, ongoing hospital treatment, and available financing options.
And break it down into a list
Once you have all the information, it is time to create a list covering the monthly, weekly, and daily needs for your seniors. This will help you determine how much help and support they will need and when. Help and support entail:
- Social support and help with leisure activities.
- Assistance with activities of daily living.
- Cleaning and home maintenance.
- Home modification and transportation support.
- Medication control and doctor’s visits.
- Nutritional assistance.
Also, this helps you to determine the who, where, and how’s of taking care of older adults day-to-day. Where practical, encourage seniors as much as possible to make their own decisions.
Tip: Long-term care insurance policies can come in handy to ease the financial burden that comes with caring for a senior.
2. Consider in-home care
According to AARP (The American Association of Retired Persons), up to 90% of 65-year olds and above prefer aging in place. This is because the home environment and perhaps the people around the home are more familiar to seniors. Rather than nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.
For this reason, unless absolutely necessary, in-home care should be a top priority for seniors. As in-home care helps them preserve their family bonds, cuts costs, and ultimately enhances their well-being. Also, it is easier for family and caregivers to assess a senior’s needs as they arise in the home environment.
Other living arrangement options include assisted living communities, where seniors are accorded some level of support. Another is nursing homes for those suffering from chronic conditions and require long-term medical support away from the hospital.
In considering where seniors will stay, it is essential to bear the following factors in mind:
- What is their preference? Aging in place or a living arrangement with better support for peace of mind?
- How will they live?
- Do they live close to their family, siblings, or relatives who support them?
- Who do they live with? Do they live alone?
If your elderly loved ones prefer aging in place, find affordable in-home care providers that can support them based on their needs. While on this, avoid disconnecting yourself from their care. It is important to get involved in coordinating and closely monitoring the care that is offered to seniors.
Tip: In-home care also includes in-home consultations. This is a great resource for needs assessment, available financing options, and other necessary information to help you make informed decisions.
3. Make advance arrangements for care service providers
As we have seen above, some aging-in-place situations will demand different types of care and support from different care providers. Even with good planning, you will find that elderly people may need additional professional care services from time to time as they continue to age. These may include the following services:
- Geriatric care management and assessment.
- Primary care offered by physicians.
- Nutrition programs and home meal delivery.
- Cleaning and maintenance.
- Physical health and wellness.
- Self-care for older adults and counseling programs.
- Financial and insurance advisory.
- Legal assistance and case management.
- Learning and arts.
- Employment and productivity.
- Cafe programs and entertainment.
- Respite for the caregiver.
With this in mind, it would be practical to research and conduct consultations with different service providers. If you do this well in advance, selecting the right provider will neither be a difficult task nor one carried out of desperation.
Alternatively, you can consider consulting geriatric care management professionals that are experts at taking care of older adults. These are people responsible for working with the elderly and their families to develop appropriate long-term care plans. Additionally, they recommend various services that the senior will need daily or periodically.
4. Offer outsourced caregiving assistance
More often than not, the burden of caregiving falls on the shoulders of adult children, spouses, or the family of the senior. Among the children that care for their aging parents, the sandwich generation that is often caught between two generations bears the greatest burden. For this generation, especially, finding help with caregiving comes in handy.
This is because aside from caring for their parents, they may also have work or parenting responsibilities which can be very overwhelming. Also, they may have no idea about how to care for older adults, which leads to suffering from burnout, hindering their productivity.
It may take time, yes, but getting the right care for your aged parents will save you from stress and overworking. Some options you can explore for caregiving help include:
- Hiring a professional in-home caregiver.
- Using respite care whenever you need breaks.
- Take turns as children or siblings to care for your loved one.
- Hire help for non-caregiving tasks such as running errands, meal preparation, and cleaning.
- Enroll your senior in daycare for older adults.
- Enlist the services of a volunteer from the senior companion program in your area.
- Order household supplies online.
5. Carefully coordinate adult care
It is clear that the elderly may need diverse services from different professionals and service providers as they age. Further, elders with complex conditions require care coordination more. For instance, a senior with a complex medical condition who takes medication regularly and has regular doctor visits, will need help coordinating their care.
Whether they come in daily, monthly, or periodically, you will need to make sure that all services are efficient for the overall well-being of the senior. Taking care of older adults and coordinating their care, means facilitating the way seniors get their things done such as:
- Booking appointments
- Communicating with care providers
- Providing updates to the medical team.
- Resources required by the seniors and care providers to achieve better outcomes.
6. Mind the caregivers
For those who are often overloaded with work and responsibilities, getting a full-time caregiver becomes the necessary option. Caregiving can be challenging to anyone including the caregivers. To give the caregivers an easy time, provide the necessary resources to facilitate proper care.
In addition, providing them respite and other resources like online forums and support networks will help them to manage stress and deliver their best.
7. Facilitate social inclusion for the seniors
Whilst most seniors would desire to live independently, this may not be possible for them. Eventually, seniors have to go through retirement, loss of a spouse or loved one, and the reality of losing their physical and mental abilities. Sadly, these are the very factors that affect their emotional well-being and make them lonely.
Whatever living arrangements they’re in, try to create opportunities for them to remain part of the family and the community around them. It is possible taking care of older adults while encouraging them to be active in their communities even as they age. Some opportunities for active involvement include:
- Volunteer, employment, and other activities that promote their fulfillment. They may include post-retirement teaching, instruction, nursing, counseling, and others.
- Religious activities such as singing, community programs for the needy, vacation Bible school, and mentorships.
- Hobbies and recreational activities such as swimming, walking clubs, meditation, dancing, reading, playing games, art therapy, and more.
To make their involvement worthwhile, consider hiring a companion to accompany them to such activities.
8. Practice and make effective mindful communication with your seniors
Mindful communication involves being fully present, having good intentions, and giving undivided attention to your seniors. It means that you practice being non-judgmental and open allowing yourself to relate to them with compassions. Mindful communication is an important part of any senior’s well-being.
Mindful communication becomes important, especially when discussing sensitive but critical issues such as end-of-life care wishes, wills and testaments, and after-death wishes. Such discussions can emotionally drain your seniors and mindful communication can help manage their emotions effectively.
9. Keep a safe environment
Safety-proofing your senior’s home whether they live in your home or separately is essential. Safety hazards like clutter, poor lighting, medications, cords, and slippery bathtubs and showers can be very risky for seniors. For this reason, be sure to eliminate safety hazards and install safety measures in seniors’ spaces. This may include:
- Installing grab bars and handrails in the bathroom, toilet, kitchen, and stairs
- Replace moveable and loose rugs with non-skid mats in the showers and other rooms.
- Remove piled rugs, clutter, and debris lying around floors and counters.
- Tuck away electrical cords and wires.
- Replace burnout bulbs, install bright and sensor night lights.
- Move your senior loved ones to single-floor spaces to minimize movement on stairs.
- Install smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
In addition to the above, the simple safety checks and measures below will keep your seniors safe:
- Marking all appliances and their on and off positions.
- Keep away hazardous substances from food storage areas.
- Check expiration dates for medications, food items, and other substances regularly.
- Store sharp objects on racks where they are visible rather than in drawers.
- Lower bathroom water temperatures.
- Remove poisonous plants.
- Keep a wide stable step stool near hard-to-reach places.
10. Make some home modifications
You can achieve some fixes like the ones listed above through simple DIY. However, it may be necessary to make some structural modifications around the home to create a safe environment. Such modifications include:
- Installing ramps and stair lifts for wheelchairs and walkers.
- Widening narrow doors and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs.
- Install lever-design door knobs.
- Installing a raised toilet.
- Installing door locks that can be opened from the inside and outside.
- Installing locks in some cabinets.
- Replacing knobbed stoves with induction cooktops.
- Replace the bathtub with a walk-in shower and have a handheld shower head and a shower chair or bath stool in place
11. Teach elders to use technology
Technology is changing how we live and it is not any different for seniors. A quick check and you’ll not miss tech options that can make life easier for your senior loved ones. They’ll get the independence they so much wish for. Along with technology taking care of older adults will be a breeze. They will feel independent and you will be there just to help. Some tech gadgets and options you might want to explore include:
- Automatic pill dispensers that alert seniors to take their medication.
- GPS trackers that can be installed on the shoe insole. This is great for the elderly or Alzheimer’s patients. You or caregivers can get location updates to GTX Corp Monitoring System.
- Alarm bracelet or pendant with the names and key information of your elderly loved one to provide information in the event of an emergency. Some of this medical ID jewelry is enabled to call emergency lines.
- A surveillance nanny cam that is installed in the home.
Also consider non-tech aids like:
- A screen reader.
- Zip pull.
- Door knob turner.
Depending on the needs of your elderly loved one, you can find a whole range of aids and tech gadgets. These will not only keep them safe but also keep them independent and help you to monitor them closely.
12. Have an emergency plan in place
Emergencies can throw everyone into disarray particularly the ones that occur in the wee hours of the night. There are a few simple steps that you can take to prepare for emergency situations. These are:
- Have a list of useful contact details including their GP.
- Have useful information within close reach. This may include their current medication, medical history, existing conditions, and more.
- Have a copy of their Power of Attorney within reach.
13. Practice self-care
It is easy to neglect yourself when you are the sole responsibility of your elderly loved one especially when you have other responsibilities like your children and your job. Note that when you are well taken care of, you will in turn provide quality care for your loved one.
Take time to care for your physical and mental well-being by following the tips below:
- Before and during the advent of COVID19, masking up protects you and your loved ones when dealing with respiratory illnesses.
- Divide roles between you and other family members to ease the burden of care.
- Find opportunities for rest whenever you can by delegating roles and using respite care.
- Have regular workout, relaxation, or massage sessions to help you to unwind and ease tension.
- Where possible, arrange for flexible working hours with your employer so that you do not lose out on the benefits of employment.
14. Encourage personal care at home for seniors
Maintaining personal hygiene and daily health and fitness routines become more difficult as seniors age. Moreso, seniors suffering from Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other mental health conditions that affect their cognitive ability will begin to neglect personal care. They may forget to take a bath and brush their teeth and constantly have to be assisted to do so regularly. Taking care of older adults can also include reminding them to take good care of herself.
To begin with, routine personal care is important for maintaining optimal hygiene and overall health. Skin care for older adults should be a top priority. This is because bacteria, oils, dirt, and other substances often accumulate on the skin surface and a lack of proper and routine cleaning can lead to infections.
Also, as a result of frail bones, reduced cushioning, and dry skin, seniors will many times experience foot problems. However, effective foot care for older adults and precautionary measures like wearing appropriate footwear will help seniors maintain an active lifestyle.
Further, dental care for older adults should not be overlooked. Consider supporting your loved ones to brush and floss their teeth at least twice a day and rinsing their dentures after every meal.
Overall, regular visits to health professionals like dentists, dermatologists, and foot health care practitioners for checkups are great preventative measures. Simple measures like moisturizing the skin, drinking plenty of water, and engaging in a light workout routine like taking walks can go a long way.
15. Learn a little something everyday
There is never an end to learning. Getting educated and being part of a support group is the best gift you can give your seniors. This is because you will be taking care of them from a point of sound knowledge and understanding.
Take time to research information and available programs for your senior. That may include housing, in-home care, nutrition, prescription drugs, and more. Here are two categories of resources that you should include in your resource bank.
- Organizations that help seniors
- Aging Life Care Association
- Meals on Wheels Association of America
- National Alliance for Caregiving
- Alzheimer’s Association
- National Council on Aging
- Caring Connections
Government Assistance Programs and Resources
Taking care of older adults can be an overwhelming but very fulfilling task. It requires that you consider their physical, mental, and emotional well-being as well as your own. In addition to dividing duties, support is also available in terms of experts and resources online. Remember that their welfare and happiness ultimately give the immediate family and the community around them peace of mind. It is also good to keep in mind that their needs will change from time to time as they age and being informed is the best way to prepare to handle the changes.