I'm back here with another guest post from June Duncan, the author of the soon to be released book The Complete Guide to Caregiving and creator of Rise Up for Caregivers. This time around she comes to us with great information relating to senior independence and some tips for assessing when a caregiver may need to step in. Identifying these things early can help caregivers (or future caregivers) mitigate problems. Forecasting possible scenarios is a step towards putting a plan in place and I speak from experience when I say you don't want to be caught off guard. Many of these suggestions are short-term solutions that can help pad the timeline surrounding a more significant transition. It can be overwhelming to tackle all at once but take notice, address what you can, and begin assessing the needs of your senior loves.
Now, some words from June:
Caregiving for a senior loved one can feel like walking around in the dark sometimes. However, there are key ways to improve your senior’s quality of life and meet needs more clearly. With a well-defined assessment, you can enhance your loved one’s independence and relieve that stumbling-in-the-dark sensation.
Certain tasks performed in everyday life are necessary for independent living. Those tasks are termed Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), and include items such as dressing, bathing, eating, using the toilet, and being able to move from laying down to standing. Sometimes with a little support in these areas, seniors can continue living at home and remain reasonably independent. The first step in deciding whether your loved one can safely remain at home is clearly gauging how much assistance is required in performing those tasks. Carefully assess your senior’s ability in each of the ADLs, using a sliding scale on how much help is needed to accomplish each task. This may seem a bit overwhelming, but there are a number of tools available for making this evaluation, such as the Bristol Activities of Daily Living Scale.
Once you complete an assessment of your senior’s abilities, review your loved one’s living situation. Oftentimes, the home environment can be effectively improved with minimal effort, allowing greater safety and peace of mind. Ensure the main living area is entirely on one floor, with access to a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Then review the living area for enhanced mobility and reduced safety risks.
For example, the National Institute on Aging recommends reducing slipping and tripping hazards in the home. You can do this by removing furniture and opening floor space for your loved one. Reduce clutter such as magazine racks and piles of newspapers, and eliminate or secure throw rugs. Stairwells should include a sturdy railing for support, and electrical cords should be safely secured away from walkways to reduce the risk of tripping on them. Ideally, floors should offer improved traction; you can leave surfaces unpolished or install nonskid strips to enhance your senior’s safety. Some experts also suggest removing thresholds so your senior doesn’t need to navigate steps in and out of the home and between interior rooms.
Improving visibility is another simple but important way to enhance your loved one’s safety and independence. Even if your senior is still enjoying good physical vision, sometimes comprehending what is being seen is an issue. There are several simple ways to help. Stairs can be marked with different colored tape so the changes in levels are more easily seen. Similarly, use high-contrast colors for floors and walls. Eliminate window coverings and rugs with complex, confusing patterns.
For better accessibility in bathrooms and kitchens, consider installing lever-style faucet handles instead of knobs. Single levers are best, since they are not only easy to grip but also reduce the risk of scalding. Use base cabinets for the majority of storage so your senior doesn’t need to climb to reach items, and add lazy Susans and pull-out drawers to reduce bending. Some professionals advise adding grab bars in bathrooms to reduce risk of falls.
Services and resources
When considering what ways your loved one’s quality of life can improve, explore resources in the local community. As the experts at HomeAdvisor explain, seniors can often enjoy remaining in their own homes through the benefits of supportive services. Meal providers can deliver nutritious food and reduce shopping and meal preparation responsibilities. Transportation services can allow your loved one to run errands and reach medical appointments even if driving isn’t feasible. Money management professionals help seniors who are no longer able to perform all of their bookkeeping obligations. For specific services and resources available in your locality, contact your Area Agency on Aging.
Assessment is key
A good assessment will help you identify your senior’s limitations. Once you have a clear understanding of where needs are, you can directly address those concerns. By modifying the living environment and employing supportive services, you can improve quality of life for both you and your aging loved one.
Alright, now it's your turn. Do any of you have experience implementing any of these suggestions? Or, do you have any questions that June or I might be able to address? We understand that the world of caregiving is increasingly isolated and decision making is often challenging without a sounding board or support system to help provide some perspective. As always, this space strives to create a community for the unique needs of caregivers so please don't hesitate to tell us your thoughts. We want to hear from you but we also want to learn from you. Drop us your thoughts and lets get to discussing!