Helping Your Parents To Stay Independent And At Home As They Get Older
Staying independent, and living independently mean different things to different people. To many it is the ability to stay in their own homes and look after their own basics needs, and to others it can be the ability to arrange their own care and make their own decisions. Either way, we understand how important keeping independence is to people as they age, and that it can be hard for their families to know the best way to help them achieve this.
This guide is to help you support a loved one plan for the future and provide you with practice advice to stay as independent as possible. After all ageing is inevitable, but how we age is not.
Staying independent is becoming ever-more important as people are living longer. The number of households where the oldest person is 85 and over is increasing faster than any other age group, and projected population change (2016 – 2036) shows that the number of people aged 65 and over will increase by more than 40% within 20 years. More than 90% of older people live in mainstream housing. Only 3.2% of those aged 65 and over live in care homes.
During this article we look to cover five areas outlined below.
Staying Active – Exercise brings major health benefits and increases independence
Staying Connected – Keep up with interests, friends and connect with the community
Staying Safe – Think about making small changes to keep your environment safe
Staying Informed – Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your own research
Staying In Control – Make financial and legal plans for the future
Staying active is essential to ageing well. Exercise brings major health benefits both for you physical wellbeing as well as your mental welling both of which contribute to you remaining independent. As the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies says, “Physical activity is an under-appreciated asset in our clinical arsenal. It is cheap and brings a long list of health benefits”.
Exercising as you get older
In general over 65 years old should be completing 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. As well as completing strength and balance exercises at least twice a week. It is also important to minimise sedentary time by breaking up periods of inactivity so have a think about how your older relative (and you!) can be more active at home.
It may not be possible for everyone to meet the guidelines so make sure they consult their GP about specific health conditions and take advice from a physiotherapist on how to start exercising and increasing activity levels with a tailored plan.
If your parent is hesitant, remember though there are plenty of activities and different ways of exercising, and it’s not always a case of liking everything!
Try out some different options – combine cardiovascular exercise and build strength and balance with swimming, or try Tai Chi and ballroom dancing if they want to work on your balance (a great way to improve strength and balance and minimise risk of falls).
The main message here is that some exercise is good, more is better, make a start today it’s never too late and every minute counts. For further information about what and how much exercise we should do as an older adult, click here.
Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2010).
Staying connected and reducing isolation and loneliness is more important and a bigger problem than we have historically realised. There is also growing evidence to show that lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression. The sad reality is that two fifths of all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company. Loneliness can creep up on you, don’t let this be you and reach out to other people who you think are lonely even if it is only a phone call.
Keeping up with interests
This can often be a way for your parents to stay socially connected even if they become more of a spectator than a player. Read local newspapers and magazines to become aware of what is happening locally as there may be events that they would enjoy or could contribute to. Joining groups whether a choir, book club, gardening club or exercise class can be a way to meet new friends.
Your contribution counts
As people get older, they tend to believe they don’t have much to offer, but the opposite is true! They have so much knowledge and have developed many skills, so think about how they could use these to benefit others. This could be volunteering locally or working as a professional mentor. Everyone gains through giving.
Family & friends
Contact with family and friends is invaluable, but in very busy lives it can be hard to keep in touch. Luckily there are now so many different ways of communicating. Many families use WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Skype to keep in touch as they are very quick and easily accessible especially for younger family members. If you’re not able to get them set up on tech, do you have a friend or family member who can step in and help you? Or there are companies who can provide computer support in your home.
Intergenerational activities bring huge benefits to both parties. We’ve written a blog about facilitating strong relationships between grandparents and grandchildren here.
Relatively low cost home modifications can lead to: 26% reduction in falls that need medical treatment and savings of £500 million each year to the NHS and social care services in the UK (The Centre For Ageing Better).
What home modifications should you make?
Consider making small home adaptations to make life easier – they have been shown to improve the quality of life for 90% of recipients.
Take a look at the layout of their home to see how you could best use the space and what potential there is for alteration if things were to become harder. There are also plenty of low cost aids which can be bought to help with specific tasks. You can get pickers to pick things up from the floor, easy turn grips to help you open jars, non slip bath mats and long handled bathing sponges.
Then there are the slightly larger but relatively simple installation aids such as rails, bath boards, perching stools and shower chairs. So have look around alone or with an occupational therapist or physiotherapist to see what they may be able to suggest for you.
Have a think about the lighting at home and ensure good lighting particularly at the top and bottom of the stairs and your route to the bathroom to reduce falls. Reading lights positioned by chairs or over bed can also be very helpful.
Clear the clutter
Now is the time to clear the clutter not only because it can reduce our falls risk but also it make things easier to find. Making a simple filling system to keep on top of admin and keeping a diary can be particularly useful in helping to keep on top of things.
Safety in the home
Key safes are a good idea in the case of emergency so that someone else can easily access our property. Look at the different brands out there to decide which one is best for you. But in the first instance let a neighbour, friend or family member you trust keep a spare key for your elderly relative.
There are plenty of tele-care options out there. Simple options like pendent alarms or door reminders, or alarmed pill boxes can be purchased at a relatively low cost. Then there are there are other more complex systems that can help you care for someone remotely but our advice would be to take advice from social services or an occupational therapist before purchasing these.
Get their fire risk assessed by your local fire station who will usually come out at do this for free. Check alarms regularly and have a carbon monoxide alarm in the kitchen if you have gas or beside the boiler.
Beware of old tricks and scams. The bank will never call and ask for bank details over the phone. Tell your parent to ask people who come to your door for ID or people you may employ for references.
If you are worried about a loved one wandering or yourself, you can register vulnerability at the police station under the Herbert Protocol. Carers, family members and friends can complete in advance a form recording all vital details, such as medication required, mobile numbers, places previously located, a photograph etc. In the event of your family member or friend going missing, the form can be easily handed to the police to reduce the time taken in gathering this information.
Take time to find out about their medical conditions and how you both can help to manage them. Prepare questions when you visit the GP as the appointments are short and it can be so easy to forget what you wanted to ask or what they said to you. This will allow you both to consider options and make informed choices about care.
Remember to ask about medications too. What are they taking them for? How long for? What are the side effects? What are the benefits and are there any other options?
By understanding their condition and knowing your options you will be able to make informed choices about your parent’s management and care and choose the options that suit them and you best.
Condition specific groups can be a great place to find this information and advice as well as providing you (the carer) with ongoing support.
Staying in control
Now is a good time to look at your parent’s finances. Discuss it with them, wider family you trust or a financial advisor to help them plan for the future. It may also be worth booking an appointment at your local Citizens Advice Bureau to see what benefits could be available.
It’s important that they make a will so that they decide what happens to their belongings and estate when they pass. A clear will will also help family and friends arrange things as per your wishes and minimise disputes.
An option is also a living will where they can record decisions as to the circumstances and types of medical treatment that they wish to refuse in the event that they do not have the capacity to communicate. Or they may want to give someone they trust Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).
Personal welfare LPA gives the attorney the power to make decisions about their daily routine (washing, dressing, eating), medical care, moving into a care home and life-sustaining medical treatment. It can only be used if they are unable to make decisions.
Property and financial affairs LPA gives the attorney the power to make decisions about their money and property, including managing bank or building society accounts, paying bills, collecting your pension or benefits and, if necessary, selling the home. Once registered with the Office of the Public Guardian, it can be used immediately or held in readiness until required.
Lastly keep medical related info such as discharge reports etc. Encourage your parent to attend medical appointments as prevention is better than cure and things that are picked up earlier are often more effectively treated.
Be assured that there is lots of help out there. It could be likely that your parent can continue at home if they want to. Talk to people and you will find that there are lots who are willing and will enjoy helping out. Help comes in many different forms so like everything else consider your options and choose which is right for you.
In conclusion there are many steps you can take in order to keep your parent as independent as possible in later life and direct their own care if needed. Choose the ones that apply to you and get started today!