The ability to complete everyday tasks for ourselves, such as bathing, dressing, eating, even moving around, is something we take for granted when we are healthy. For seniors, however, these functions can become difficult to complete alone, as the effects of aging, including mobility issues, take effect. This can have an impact on a loved one’s sense of independence and dignity.
The Importance of Empathy
It's hard to imagine what life would be like if you could no longer easily do any, or all, of the daily tasks you used to do on your own. A recent article by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Age Lab details how they developed a device that enables researchers to better understand the restrictions aging can have on mobility, in order to increase empathy.
However, without being able to use MIT’s Age Gain Now Empathy System (AGNES) yourself, in order to understand what a senior loved one is going through, and how you can help them stay safe and comfortable, while retaining their independence, it is important to ask yourself: How would you feel if a condition such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis, recovery from a stroke or heart attack, or even simply old age, meant that you had an increasing need for assistance.
Then, consider what you would need to stay safe and comfortable at home, and what practical steps you could take to help make this happen.
Showing real empathy for your loved one's emotional, as well as practical, needs, when talking to them about getting help at home, is key to the success of such a conversation. Remember that:
- Your loved one could experience a huge sense of loss or despair as their abilities deteriorate
- They won't necessarily feel any more prepared or accepting of changes to their abilities than you would be, simply because they are older
- Your loved one may fear that their independence and dignity are threatened by having someone assist them with daily tasks
It is important to highlight that getting support or assistance does not necessarily mean a loss of dignity for your loved one, or their ability to live on their own. Outline the practical ways in which your mom or dad can avail of help to enhance their independence, rather than take it away.
Practical Help at Home
Talk to your loved one about some practical steps to retaining their independence, including:
- Organizing grocery deliveries - If you can't be there every day to see what your parent has in their food cupboards, or are worried about them getting out to a grocery store, you could set up a regular online delivery of healthy groceries, cooked meals or other essentials. This can eliminate the need for your mom or dad to drive, and ensures they are getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy. If you are concerned about your loved one being able to cook, services such as Meals on Wheels can arrange for pre-cooked meals to be delivered daily.
- Making home adjustments - Make sure your parent's home is safe by checking for fall risks and other hazards. Rearrange furniture to make clear access paths to key areas, remove trip-hazard rugs, install rails and grab bars, and fit extra lighting. Your loved one’s physical therapist can also advise on and provide walking aids, or supportive cushions.
- Developing a healthcare plan - Don't be afraid to talk to your loved one about how they would like their health and independence to be safeguarded in the future. Discuss the care options that can help them at key times of the day. For example, they may prefer to have a Home Care Aide assist them in the shower and getting dressed, rather than a family member.
- Assisting with treatment – Discuss how you can help with scheduling essential medication, and plan to be present at medical appointments, if you can. Often, it can be hard to take in a doctor's instructions and advice alone.
- Preparing for emergencies - Having an emergency plan in place brings an assurance that, should an accident or deteriorating condition occur, help will be on its way immediately. An alert device that notifies emergency services and a nominated Home Health Aide will mean your parent can continue to live alone, knowing that they will be able to signal for help at the push of a button.
- Considering hiring a Home Care company - Talk to your parent as soon as you can about the services that a Home Care company can provide, and how it can help them with their daily needs. Emphasize that, while Home Care is a valuable service for people whose mobility is challenged, it does not intrude on their independence.
A carefully selected, compassionate private caregiver can come to your parent's home and assist with everything from personal care (bathing, dressing, etc) to medication reminders, cooking, light housework, and accompanying your loved one to appointments. This assistance means that your loved one can enjoy a fuller life, and be safe and comfortable at home, without losing their independence, or their dignity.
For more information on assisting a loved one with their independent living, please contact a member of our compassionate and experienced team.