Helping seniors stay active and healthy can be an overwhelming job for caregivers and their families. Aging comes with a number of new, unforeseen challenges including aches, pains and other health concerns. Some of these concerns may make your loved one slow down, but they shouldn’t stop moving. Regular exercise and healthy habits can prevent diseases, improve mental health and help improve their balance to reduce the risk of trips and falls.
Rita Merienne owns a support network for caregivers called Aged Care with Ease and is a caregiver herself. She shared a few tips based on her experience as a caregiver to help other families adjust to the role of being a caregiver for their loved one.
Always Keep in Touch
To start, the COVID-19 pandemic makes it harder for seniors to connect with their loved ones to prevent the risk of the virus spreading. More families are coming up with creative ways to speak to their loved ones in nursing care facilities at this time. Merienne started with a few easy suggestions to help during this time and when you’re able to reconnect with them in person again.
“Get the kids to send letters or cards. We do a number of things for our Mum, including phone calls, being outside in the sun and spending time together. We have a puppy and get her to play with him,” she shared. “Getting her to do things is important. Sure, we could do it for her but it’s important for her to do things herself. So we make breakfast together or get her to help us with other things.”
Here are a few other suggestions:
- Give your loved one a call, but be sure to call at a time that’s best for them — not when they’re tired or sleepy.
- Talk to them via FaceTime or other video chat apps, but be mindful that this form of technology can be challenging for elders with limited hearing and eyesight.
- Take time to help them find new hobbies that you can do together such as board games or puzzles.
- Fresh air is always good. Sit in a shaded area or take a walk around the neighborhood.
Quality time, whether on the phone or face-to-face, shows your senior citizen that they’re loved and cared for outside of day-to-day caregiver duties.
Find Activities that Match Their Interests
There are a few ways to keep your aging loved one healthy and moving. Short walks and exercise classes tailored to their interest are common ways. Merienne shared another good option.
“One of the things we did was have a physiotherapist come to the home to spend time with Mum. Going through exercises and working her arms and legs,” she explained. “It also gives her interaction with someone else.”
Merienne also recommends being by your loved one’s side when they’re being active and advised families not to push them too much. Start with seated exercises for a safer alternative when they’re alone. You can also consider enrolling them in dancing or water aerobics classes for muscle and cardiovascular strength. Keeping up with low-impact household chores such as cooking or dusting is also a great way to encourage movement.
Encourage Senior Safety
There are a number of ways to keep your loved ones safe and reduce the risks of many common hazards such as trips and falls. Many caregivers rely on medical alerts for 24/7 monitoring of their loved ones. Medical alerts can be installed in the home or wearables for seniors that are on the go. Their one-press button functionality makes it easy for seniors to call for help if there’s an emergency, and some are built with fall detection to automatically alert for assistance. Aside from medical alerts, there are a few safety precautions you can take to create a safe living environment.
- Remove things they could trip or fall over
- Avoid slippery surfaces or rugs
- Add a waterproof, slip-resistant shower and drying mat to the bathroom
- Move commonly used items within reach to avoid falls
- Avoid clutter and piles: Keeping a clean open space helps avoid falls or falling items
It’s also a good habit to keep in contact with your loved one every day. Having a good understanding of their eating habits, restrictions, medications and other needs will help you be alert of any changes quickly.
Families should be on the lookout strangers and senior scams that are seeking to take advantage of their money, personal data or valuables. Many seniors are very trusting and may not easily notice common red flags.
Don’t Forget Self-Care
Caregivers are faced with a number of challenges when caring for their loved ones. They’re faced with fatigue, errands and countless tasks to make sure elders are safe and healthy. Merienne shared her thoughts.
“What I see is that caregivers are running themselves into the ground running around caring for everyone,” she expressed. “They are overwhelmed and feel that they have no time for themselves.”
As caregivers face burnout, their loved ones may sense some of their emotions. It’s just as important for the caregiver to find the right balance of care for themselves and their loved ones. Caregiver.org offered a few tips:
- Get enough sleep and personal time through self-care hobbies
- Exercise regularly and keep a healthy diet
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends
- Don’t ignore your own stresses and health needs
Merienne shared some additional insight based on her personal experience and empathized with families and their challenges. “Aging in place isn’t easy. Often times our aged loved ones don’t realize they need help and it becomes difficult to talk to them about what care is needed,” she said. “We are an aging population being cared for by an aging workforce and it is tough. Working full-time, caring for our families and now caring for our aged loved ones, too.”
Caring for your loved ones isn’t always easy, but can be better managed with the help of Merienne’s advice and a few of the tips above. Remember to consult with your loved one about their needs and wants to make sure you’re caring for them in the ways they need most. Here are a few additional resources to continue to provide you and your family support from our experts.