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How to help older people remain independent

Winter can be a difficult time for older people

How to help older people remain independent

With the onset of age and inevitably becoming frailer, remaining independent - especially in your own home - can become more problematic, with even small issues (e.g. topping up boiler pressure) having the capacity to become bigger problems.

Supporting physical and mental health becomes increasingly important as we age, and finding ways to help prevent these from deteriorating is vital. As our parents or grandparents get older, we can become more concerned about their overall health and wellbeing and how they cope with day to day life. With this in mind, here we highlight some effective ways to help support your loved ones’ health and independence in the comfort of their own homes.

Everything within reach

To help limit any form of strenuous activity that could potentially result in injury, making the likes of food and other resources around the home easily accessible is advised. For example, moving all food in the kitchen cupboards and drawers to a reachable height without having to stand on a chair or strain to reach something will help prevent older people from falling or straining.

Slippery surfaces

Since water on the floor or slippery surfaces can cause falls, additional safety precautions should be implemented in bathrooms to help prevent this from happening. Installing rails and grab bars around the bathroom can help with access into the bath, shower, or using the toilet.

For homes that only include a shower in the bathroom, installing a shower bench will also mean that individuals won’t have to stand up while showering, helping prevent the risk of slipping.

Mats and rugs

Although rugs might not be what initially spring to mind when you think of safety hazards in the home, these can result in serious injury for elderly people. For those that have young grandchildren that play with small toys, e.g. Lego bricks, these pieces can get tangled, or hidden, in a rug’s material and become unnoticeable to elderly people whose vision may have deteriorated. Ultimately, this can cause injury if they stand on the hard pieces. Removing thick rugs or carpets is another effective way to limit accidents from occurring.

Warmth

Ensuring that all heating and electricity is working, and regularly serviced, is essential, especially as the colder months approach. It's also important that extra steps are taken to ensure that winter warmers are being maximised. For example, reorganising the furniture in our elders’ homes so that they aren’t blocking any radiators, or advising them to dry clothes on a clothes horse or a rail instead of a radiator are effective ways to maximise the heat stored in their homes.

Physical health

Of course, physical health is equally important. To maintain a physically healthy state as well as independence, creating a diet plan is advised. While creating the diet plan, make sure to consider any health conditions that might affect the type of foods that can be eaten. It’s also worth taking a look at health supplements, to maintain physical wellbeing.

Other than food, ensuring adequate hydration is essential e.g. make a visible note of the fluid intake that should be consumed daily. Creating a diet plan that includes all aspects of food and water consumption will allow them to maintain a healthy lifestyle without the added pressure of finding foods that are right for them – or worse, having no diet plan at all.

Other than their diet, encouraging them to partake in regular exercise in their homes will keep older people physically active and improve their cognitive functioning. This could be done by writing them an exercise plan or even purchasing some exercise videos (Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel has a specific section for ‘seniors’). Exercise is also an effective way for them to relieve any stresses or anxieties.

Mental health

Ensuring that independence doesn’t develop into loneliness is vital. Making sure older people are in regular contact with a friend, family member, or carer will help reduce isolation and ensure they have someone to talk to whenever needed.

Thanks to technology, keeping in touch with the outside world has never been easier. Other than being able to call or potentially FaceTime elderly relatives wherever we are in the world, there are free help and support line services available. The Silver Line, for example, offers confidential helpline services whereby advice, support, or a friend is on hand 24/7 every day of the year. Educating elders on services like this and providing them with the contact information if ever needed helps to reassures that support is there whenever lonely or in need of a chat.

Other than this, arranging regular visits with a home care provider will ensure regular face-to-face contact with someone, vital for supporting mental wellbeing.

Additional precautions

Other than the more obvious things that you can do to help support elderly loved ones’ independence, there are additional precautions you can take.

Leave emergency contact numbers around different rooms in case there is ever an urgent situation that needs to be dealt with immediately. Make the most of home deliveries for weekly shopping rather than them having to leave home – especially as the colder months approach and icy surfaces amplify the hazards of the outside world.

Regarding medical needs, it’s useful to have regular contact with an elderly person’s nurse or GP ensuring you are up to date with any medical prescriptions or routines they need to follow. A tip is to leave reminders around the home or set alarms during the day as a reminder to take any medicines they require.

It can be a challenge to get the balance between supporting elders’ health and maintaining their independence. However, adapting and implementing some new techniques and features around homes will help make everyday living safer and easier.

Sources

https://caregiver.com/articles/keep-independent/

https://www.lmtservices.co.uk/index.php/component/k2/item/36-how-to-keep-your-loved-ones-independent

https://www.caremark.co.uk/locations/basingstoke-and-deane/5-ways-to-help-elderly-loved-ones-live-independently

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John Hannen
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