Watching a loved one age is never easy. Declining physical and mental conditions can tend to make the aged more dependent on others. Some dependence is unavoidable. While you naturally want to make things as easy as possible for your loved one, it’s usually healthier for them to maintain their independence as much as possible, for as long as possible. Here are seven actionable ways you can help your loved one transition into independent aging.
1. Avoid Coddling
As a family or friend caregiver, you probably have natural instincts that prompt you to do everything possible for your aging loved one. Those instincts are to be complimented, but too much care—that tends toward coddling—is to be avoided if you want your loved one to age independently. A good rule of thumb is; if they can do it safely, let them. If they can’t do it alone or safely, offer assistance. For example, you might let your loved one use the microwave oven alone, but not the gas range.
2. Let Them Set the Pace
Caregivers who have reared children in the past know that children grow into independence at their own pace. In reverse, it’s best to take cues from your aging loved one as to how much assistance—or how little—they need from you as time goes on.
3. Provide Access to Tools That Support Their Independence
With over 40 million people over the age of 65, there are more accommodations than ever before for the aging population. Grocery stores have battery-powered scooters for the elderly and disabled, meal delivery services are available, and geriatric products are available through mail order.
Your aging loved one may not know of all the things that are available that can prolong their independent lifestyle. Help them by providing information and access to these tools. Show them how to operate the grocery store scooter for the first time. Introduce them to the local Meals on Wheels representative. Subscribe them to catalogs that carry geriatric products like support stockings and articulating bedside trays.
4. Listen to Concerns
One of the most overlooked ways to help elderly loved ones age independently is to listen to their concerns and frustrations. What may seem like an insurmountable issue for them, may be easily resolved through listening and focused conversation. For instance, your loved one may struggle with going downstairs to do laundry. Until your conversation, they may not realize your willingness to help with procuring a stackable washer/dryer unit for placement on the main floor.
5. Help With the Search for an Independent Living Community
In the past, the aged typically went from their own homes, straight into a nursing home. Independent living communities didn’t exist just a few decades ago. When your loved one can no longer manage the big house and property where they’ve lived for years, you can help them prolong their independent lifestyle by helping them to choose an independent living community.
6. Help to Modify the Environment
The living environment can be modified with a common household toolbox and some clever accessories and adjustments. This can help your aging loved one to continue being independent for as long as possible. Take a day and consider doing such things as:
- Install a rail inside the shower and next to the toilet for mobility help
- Place floor items like magazines, knitting baskets and shoe bins on stools and chairs to avoid having to bend over
- Remove tripping hazards like cords and slippery area rugs
- Lower kitchen and pantry shelves to avoid having to reach up high
- Replace glass and china with plastic and Corian dishware to avoid breakage
7. Provide Telephone Access
One of the scariest aspects of living independently for the aged is not being able to reach someone when help is needed. Make it easy for your loved one to call you by programming your cell number into their phone. Subscribe to an emergency assistance provider service for them so all they have to do is press a button if they have a problem and need professional help right away.
These seven ways of helping your loved one age independently will make them—and you—feel safer and more secure; knowing they are living as full and independent a life as possible.
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