As your parents age, it’s important to strike a balance in your relationship. You don’t want to smother them with unneeded assistance, but you don’t want to accidentally neglect them if they do need help. Here are eight ways you can facilitate independence for your elderly parents:
Help them stay healthy.
Staying on top of medical care is the number one thing that you can do to promote your parents’ well-being and independence. This means going to doctor appointments, getting annual exams and tests, and taking medication at the prescribed dosage and schedule, as well as lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Going to the doctor is no one’s favorite activity, but it is so necessary for living a long and healthy life and maintaining that independence. Talk to your parents about the importance of taking care of their health and ask if there is any support they need in order to get to the doctor, eat healthily or hit the gym.
Make their home safe for aging in place.
Helping loved ones age in a place at home is one of the best things you can do to create a feeling of independence. Unfortunately, very few homes are designed with the elderly in mind, and often pose safety hazards. Do a safety audit of the home and remove any objects such as loose electrical cords and rugs that could cause a fall, and encourage them to wear shoes for swollen feet at all times, even inside the house. Install grab bars, shower chairs, and other helpful devices in the bathroom. You might need to consider more extensive renovations, such as installing a stairlift, depending on the age and design of their home.
Promote social connections.
Physical health isn’t the only thing to focus on. You also want your parents to be strong mentally as well. Unfortunately, older adults are more vulnerable to depression. They are at a stage in life where their peers and friends are more likely to be sick or dying, and mobility limitations make it more difficult to get together for a social time — even if they are otherwise healthy. Encourage your parents to stay connected to friends and invite them to as many family events as possible to help them stay social, even when they are tempted to withdraw.
Educate them about technology.
On the subject of social connections, technology provides more ways than ever to stay in touch with people, even when you are physically apart. Sadly, many older adults struggle to use video calls and other technology that could keep them connected to loved ones. In some cases, memory conditions may prevent your loved ones from learning to operate a particular kind of tech, but in many cases, they don’t understand how to do it because no one has ever sat them down and explained it to them. Providing this tech support for them can make a big difference in their digital independence and empower them to take charge of reaching out to others.
Figure out transportation solutions.
Many older adults struggle to drive, whether that’s due to impaired vision, limited mobility, or memory conditions. Not being able to transport themselves is obviously a big blow to their independence, and many older adults continue to drive long after they should in an attempt to stay independent. Seek out transportation options that don’t require them to drive, whether that is taking a rider share, riding public transportation or hiring a driver service. You can also look into options that cut down their need to drive, such as getting their groceries delivered to their house instead of taking a trip to the store.
Consider scheduling services.
Speaking of home services, it may be worth looking into cleaning or meal delivery services if your parents are struggling with basic chores around the house. For instance, if your parents can do light cleaning duties, but aren’t capable of lugging around a heavy vacuum, hiring a maid service two to four times a month will keep their house clean and help delay the move into assisted living. Just make sure to double-check what services will actually be provided. For instance, home health workers will do light cleaning tasks, but won’t deep clean their homes.
Explore senior assistance devices.
Similar to homes, most everyday objects aren’t designed for use by elderly people with mobility limitations. Many elderly people struggle to open a round doorknob, grip a skinny utensil handle, buckle a seatbelt and perform other essential movements that are necessary to maintain independence.
Thankfully, some innovative designers have created fixes for these problems, including everything from front closure bras for seniors and post-surgery clothing to utensil grips and standing aids that wedge between couch cushions. Investing in these assistive devices can make a huge difference in your parents’ daily life and allow them to complete basic tasks that they formerly struggled to do by themselves. It is well worth the effort to research these assistive devices and choose some that will be helpful to your family.
Assess their caregiving needs periodically.
Even if your parents are still spry and independent, it’s good to check in every few months to assess how they are getting along. Sometimes, an older loved one’s health can decline suddenly and rapidly, and if they are no longer capable of caring for themselves, you want to know as soon as it happens. Touch base with your elderly loved ones periodically and make sure that you have a backup plan in place (either a volunteer family caregiver or a professional paid one) so someone can step in if your parents suddenly need some help.
Follow these steps to encourage independence while still keeping an eye on your elderly parents. Striking the balance can be hard as your parents age, but it’s worth it to keep them safe while promoting independence.