6 Ways to Help Seniors Be Independent (Even If They Live With You)
Are you taking care of an aging parent, grandparent or another senior? If so, this article is important because it will help you help your senior loved one have a sense of independence. I’m sharing 6 ways to help seniors be more independent (even if they live with you). It is estimated that by the year 2030, the number of older Americans will nearly double, and older adults will make up about 20% of the entire U.S. population.It is estimated that by the year 2030, the number of older Americans will nearly double, and older adults will make up about 20% of the entire U.S. population. Click To Tweet
Such a demographic trend brings with it many issues and challenges for health and health care; although people are living longer, they are also living with more chronic health conditions and disabilities (Zimmer and Chappell 1994). These developments have implications for the formal health care system and the ever-increasing number of family caregivers taking care of elderly loved ones.
I was one of the 66 million people taking care of my aging and ill parents while raising my kids. As a 40-something, single mom of three teenagers, I found myself unexpectedly in a role of caregiver for both of my parents. My dad needed care due to a severe Traumatic Brain Injury as a result of a massive 20 + care pile up. My mom was already disabled and needed care due to cancer and losing my dad as her caregiver. After two and a half years in this “sandwich” role, I have learned that it can be incredibly difficult to watch your parents become so dependent on someone else. Both parents lived with my kids and me as their disabilities and financial standing made it impossible for them to live on their own.
Coping With a Loss of Independence
Studies have shown that many older adults fear losing independence more than they fear death. A study by the University of Michigan found that two-thirds of older Americans need some form of assistance to go about their daily lives.
Studies show that within the next 30 years, the number of Americans who are 65 years of age and older is set to more than double, reaching 88.5 million. [i]
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6 Ways to Help Seniors Be Independent
First Way to Help Seniors Be Independent: Encourage Seniors To Do Things On Their Own
Caregivers need to understand when it’s appropriate to encourage seniors to be independent, and when to offer assistance. Even if doing a task on your own might be quick and easy, taking the time to help the senior accomplish it can give them confidence and help them feel more independent. Some ways I helped my parents be independent included:
- Allowing them extra time to get dressed. Some days, it took my dad 45 minutes to get his shirt on but he felt better when HE did it himself (sometimes, he would need a nap immediately after but his shirt was on).
- My mom wanted to do online shopping. I set her up to order groceries online and have them delivered.
- When my mom was strong enough, she wanted to pay bills online. I was happy to turn this responsibility back to her.
CAVEAT: My mom loved to order random things from places like the Home Shopping Network. I didn’t realize that her credit card and bank account information was saved in the respective shopping places websites and Paypal. When we started getting non-essential packages, I caught on and had a chat with my mom about their budget and hoarding.
Since more than 78 percent of baby boomers already use the Internet regularly [i], and on average, they spend more money online than younger generations [ii], you can consider showing them how to grocery shop online so they feel more independent and in control of their own lives. Giving my mom some control over one area of her life through her ability to order the food she wanted from a grocery store that delivered was one way to help her feel independent.
Second Way to Help Seniors Be Independent: Give Seniors Choices About How To Spend Their Time
- Giving them choices about things such as what to watch on TV, what movies to see or meal planning helped them feel a part of the family and that they had a voice.
- Crossword puzzles or other brain games were popular with my parents.
- On family nights, I’d ask my parents what movie they wanted to watch and we’d all watch together. The kids often learned a thing or two in the process!
These are just some ideas to get your thinking here.
Third Way to Help Seniors Be Independent: Use Technology
We should always consider how technology can play a major role in creating a safe environment for the elderly. Here are four ways technology can help improve independence while giving caregivers peace of mind:
- The latest home security systems can provide caregivers with a real-time overview of the parent’s home. By simply using a tablet or smartphone, you can review video footage of key areas in near real-time, and remotely control lights, locks, and thermostats.
- Motion detectors. Installing motion detectors to provide extra lighting or alerts around the home improves safety.
- Tablets. Giving your senior a tablet, iPad or other mobile technology advice and installing Skype or FB video is a great way to stay connected while giving your loved one some space.
- Health tracking apps or devices such as Fitbit series or the Nike+ devices. They allow the wearer to not only monitor their movement and physical activity throughout the day but also to set goals for themselves. For seniors that are health conscious or are able to have some level of physical activity, this could be a great option.
- Cell phones. Often, an average phone may be too complicated for some elderly to use. So, make it easy. Get a simple, easy to use mobile phone with large buttons to improve visibility, and an amplified speaker to help those hard of hearing.There are many products designed to enable seniors to call for help in case of an emergency. Life Alert, Philips Lifeline, and Alert-1 are among the best. Each provides a service where a person can call for help simply by pressing a button on a wearable device. A notice is sent to a dispatch center that then alerts the authorities. This technology provides real-time monitoring and sends automatic alerts to friends and family members. Monthly monitoring fees are usually $20 to $30.
- Motorized Chair. This can be a great option to wheelchairs and help promote independence.
Fourth Way to Help Seniors Be Independent: Home Modifications
- Modifying our home bathrooms, doors, and rooms in many ways for greater disability access were key to helping my parents be independent. All modifications were either their suggestions or significant contributions to the end result.
- Staying safe is one of the essential parts of ensuring a senior can live independently. Some areas to consider include:
- Location and condition of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Uneven floors or steps
- An adequate source of light (especially at night)
- Location of at least one working fire extinguisher
- Any obstructed pathways
- Handrails, shower grabbers
- Any tripping areas or unsecured throw rugs
Many of my clients are concerned about how decisions will impact them and those they are caring for from a financial, emotional, physical and spiritual perspective. I created a comprehensive guide that addresses:
1. Caregiving myths
2. How to balance independence and safety
3. 31 ways to keep your loved ones safe physically at home
4. How to keep your loved ones safe financially (including a disturbing and growing trend with nursing homes and how to avoid this issue)
5. How to keep your loved ones safe emotionally
6. How to keep your loved ones safe spiritually
7. 9 considerations when buying or renting a car
You may find this guide in my Etsy Store here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/589895821/family-caregiving-safety-at-home-guide?ref=shop_home_active_5
Check out all of my caregiving resources here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CoachingWithTandy
Fifth Way to Help Seniors Be Independent: Socialization and Connection
Research indicates that loneliness increases the risk of an untimely death by 45 percent among the elderly, according to a study by the University of California, San Francisco. Here’s how I helped my parents with socialization and connection:
- Being supportive and provide a listening ear. Sometimes, losing the ability to think, make decisions, drive, live alone, walk, talk, shower, cook, eat, or get dressed can cause a range of emotions we can’t understand unless we’ve been there. Sometimes, I would just sit and listen to them. That alone provided a safe and supportive environment for them.
- Set up friend dates. Sometimes, we’d schedule times for my dad to get together with his friends or previous co-workers. This included time to go to his previous employer and visit with co-workers and help his department set up a retirement party. He needed help walking and talking but oh how he enjoyed this time!
- Therapist or coach. See my story below for why this is an important option to consider.
Loneliness can actually be deadly for seniors. According to University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, a study of 2,100 adults age 55+ found that lacking close personal connections raised an individual’s risk of premature death by 14 percent. If your senior parent or loved one is alone, make sure he or she is not lonely. Here’s a POWERFUL video I found where a young man spend an entire week alone with no people or technology around him and it was tougher than he thought it would be. Check that out HERE.If your senior parent or loved one is alone, make sure he or she is not lonely. Click To Tweet
Quick story about my mom and a rather uncomfortable conversation that we had that made me realize just how lonely she was. One day, my mom was asking me about how leg cramps affect sex. She went on to share that she and my dad hadn’t had sex for quite a long time. I know my mom grieved for the loss of the partner she shared a life with for 45 years. She went on to say that she didn’t have any friends to talk to about this so she was talking with me. WOW! This was an eye-opener for me.
I was so busy with day-to-day caregiving responsibilities that I didn’t consider that my mom needed someone to talk to about these sensitive matters. I asked her if she was open to getting a therapist and/or finding groups that shared her interests.
Ultimately, we got a therapist for her to talk to. She didn’t want to ‘burden me’ with yet another thing to do on our calendar. I assured her that her needs were just as important as my dad’s, mine and my kids.
Sixth Way to Help Seniors Be Independent: Health Aides
- Hearing – When seniors aren’t able to effectively hear things around them, it severely limits their independence. Make sure loved ones get hearing tests and hearing aids, as needed.
- Dental – Same goes for dental care. If seniors don’t have teeth, they need dentures or another solution that helps them eat independently.
- Vision – Similiar to hearing, ensuring your senior has updated prescription eyeglasses helps them see better and certainly helps minimize possible falls/injuries.
It is never ever easy to assume responsibility for one or both parents while raising your children. It’s even less ideal when everyone lives in the same house! These are just a few things I did to promote their overall physical, emotional and mental well being. Remembering they are the parent. Have clear communication and remain respectful in all situations. While there were times I was angry with them for this or that, I remembered they are my elders and I wanted them to have dignity.It is never ever easy to assume responsibility for one or both parents while raising your children. Click To Tweet
[i] “Aging in Place: A State Survey of Livability Policies and Practices,” National Conference of State Legislatures and the AARP Public Policy Institute, 20111
[ii] Lisa E. Phillips, “Digital Lives of Boomers: Reaching Them Online,” eMarketer, 2011
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