Thanks to breakthroughs in medicine and nutrition in recent years, we are living longer than ever before. But this increase in life expectancy also brings an increase in the number of diseases, injuries and impairments that affect older adults. With this in mind, we at the local Visiting Angels office in Salem have created this series of articles to keep our older population and their families informed and to offer some practical advice for meeting the challenges faced by seniors and those who care for them.
As people grow older the physical limitations which are often a part of the aging process can affect their ability to maintain their lifestyles as they once did. This loss of mobility or motor function, coupled with negative cultural attitudes toward aging, can sometimes rob seniors of their dignity and cause them to feel powerless over their own lives.
While there may be little that seniors and their loved ones can do to alter the aging process, there are ways to restore a sense of control and help older adults retain their dignity as they journey through their golden years.
It is important for seniors to stay as physically active as possible. Regular exercise helps to keep muscles and bones strong and joints flexible, and a healthy, well-balanced diet can prevent some diseases and other serious health problems. Keeping mentally active is just as important as physical activity. Puzzles, games and hobbies, as well as learning a new skill, can help keep the brain active and prevent the deterioration of mental functions.
Modifications can be made to the home to make daily tasks less of a challenge. Walk-in showers and tubs, shower benches and hand-held shower heads all make bathing easier, and installing handrails can make getting into and out of the shower or bath safer. Stairlifts can provide safe easy access to a basement or second story, and if installing a stairlift isn’t possible, bedrooms, bathrooms, and laundry can all be moved to the same floor.
Ramps can make it easier for older people with wheelchairs or walkers to get in and out of the home without struggling with stairs.
Getting dressed and eating meals without assistance can also be challenging for seniors with limited flexibility or arthritis, and it isn’t always easy to ask for help with these tasks, which most of us take for granted. In addition to clothing choices that eliminate zippers and buttons, some companies specialize in in designing clothes for seniors which are both fashionable and functional. Utensil grips are also available to allow older adults with limited dexterity the ability to continue eating meals without assistance.
Many older adults find strength in numbers. Staying socially active with people their own age is one of the best ways for seniors to feel empowered. They can share their joys and concerns with others in similar situations, and among their peers, seniors may find advice and support from others who have been where they are now.
Loneliness and depression tend to creep into a person’s life as they age, especially as they lose those closest to them, such as a spouse and siblings. Seniors facing these challenges may find encouragement by joining a support group at a local senior center. Many community centers also offer exercise classes and activities targeted to older adults. These can be a great way for seniors to not only keep physically and mentally active, but also meet new people their own age.
Staying connected to children, grandchildren and other family members is also a great way to stay socially active. Many seniors have embraced social media apps and technology such as Facebook, Apple’s FaceTime, and Skype as a way to stay connected with family members across great distances.
As their loved ones age, many people fall into the habit of making decisions for them. While this may seem like helping, especially when the older relative’s memory may not be what it once was, allowing seniors to make their own decisions whenever possible allows them to feel that they are in control of their own lives.
Similarly, allowing older adults to perform as many of their daily tasks as they can, without assistance, helps them feel like they are living normal lives and are capable of taking care of themselves. Although relatives and family caregivers may mean well by trying to eliminate the burden of challenging tasks, such actions can be detrimental to their loved one’s mental and emotional health and can lead to resentment.
Elderspeak is another way that people interact with older adults which can lead to a loss of empowerment and dignity. In much the same way that they speak to young children, some people address older adults in a sing-song voice, using oversimplified words and cute nicknames. This is elderspeak, and it can imply a sense of power over the person being addressed, making them feel inferior to the speaker.
While the speaker may not mean any disrespect, elderspeak can lead to anger and frustration in grown adults capable of understanding what is being said, as well as lead to agitation and aggression in some with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in home care. The Visiting Angels Salem office recently received the Top 100 Leader in Experience Award, ranking 12th nationwide on the list of top 100 agencies recognized by Home Care Pulse, the leading firm in experience management for home care. To set up an appointment for a free, no-obligation in-home consultation, call 330-332-1203.