My grandmother is 92 years old and lived alone up until a few years ago. When her daughter moved in, it wasn’t necessary for my grandmother’s safety or well being. It was simply an arrangement that made sense at the time for both of them. Now that my grandmother is a little older, this has turned out to be a blessing for her because somebody is frequently home with her and is able to help out with doctors’ appointments, cooking, housework, and general companionship.
As I wrote last week, a lot of people want to age in their own homes. One of the challenges of aging in one’s own home is not having the support that is needed in order to make it a practical goal.
How to help somebody live independently as long as possible
The most important step you can take is to visit often. If you are unable to visit personally, you need to find somebody else who is able to do that on your behalf. Perhaps a whole team of people will work. For example, a volunteer from church, a couple of neighbors, other family members, and somebody from an organization that your loved one belongs to. There is often an issue of pride that causes an older person to spare family members from knowing all of the problems they’re having. The aging person could be simply embarrassed or might not recognize that there is a problem. They also tend to have a fear of complaining because of their greater fear of being placed into a nursing home if they cannot live on their own
Issues to observe to help your loved one live safely
- Look for burned out house lights or necessary appliances that aren’t working. Burned out light bulbs can make a home dark in the evening and make it harder for loved ones to spot a tripping hazard on the floor. A refrigerator that isn’t working properly can cause food to spoil, perhaps unknown to your loved one. Check to see that the refrigerator and cupboards have food in them.
- Perform periodic safety inspections to make sure there aren’t throw rugs placed in a way that could create a tripping hazard. Look for electrical cords running across the floor. Also, if someone has an older home, they may have fewer outlets to use than in a more modern home. You might discover that they are plugging too many items into one outlet, posing a fire risk.
- When talking with your loved one in person, watch for signs that the person isn’t physically up to par. Possible changes in the way the person is speaking or using their body can indicate a mild stroke has taken place. Signs of confusion could indicate a medical problem or something as simple as dehydration or malnutrition. Balance problems could be the symptom of an ear infection and could definitely create a fall risk.
- Make frequent dinner dates with your loved one. People who eat with other people tend to eat more because they are relaxed and having a nice time and enjoying the meal. People who frequently eat alone tend not to eat as much as they are aging. Not only can you find that time spent with loved ones over a meal is pleasant for you, you’ll also have you a good chance to observe any mental or health changes that have taken place since the last time you ate together.
- Take loneliness seriously. Loneliness can lead to depression, poor appetite, excessive sleeping, and health problems. The anecdote here is for somebody to visit more frequently. Another possibility could be a small pet. Here you need to use your best judgment because a pet can pose a tripping hazard. Cats and dogs have a way of running in front of someone or actually knocking an older person down. For those who cannot manage a real pet, I am a big fan of the JoyForAll companion robotic pets from Hasbro. They are adorable, safe, and do not require any care except for an occasional battery change.
- Hire a reliable housekeeper, errand runner, grocery delivery service, and a gardener, if needed, so that your loved one does not become overrun with chores that are too much to handle. Delivered groceries can cut back on your loved one needing to drive if that has become a safety concern.
Helping someone to stay in their home as long as possible is a great gift
It does require your time and effort to coordinate with other people and services. When you dedicate yourself to this commitment, you will be able to comfortably determine when it is no longer possible for your loved one to live alone. At that point you will need to decide whether the loved one should move in with a family member or vice versa, whether hired caregivers are appropriate, or whether a long-term care community is the best option for all involved. But until that time, you will be helping your loved one achieve their goal of independent living.