|Patty McKinney, OTR|
As we age, the simple fact is that managing daily tasks becomes more difficult. If you have an aging parent, relative or friend living alone, you may be seeing these changes and be concerned about his or her health and safety.
Often, certain daily activities have become too difficult because of physical or mental changes in aging individuals. If bills are going unpaid or your loved one is neglecting grooming, skipping meals, or his or her home appears unkempt, it may be time to intervene. As abilities and strength diminish, families and other caregivers must often help the older person obtain the assistance needed to maintain independence. It can be sensitive and difficult for the older adult to accept these life changes, and to accept help and assistance from others, so thoughtful communication and timing are important.
Caregivers and family members sometimes investigate and suggest outside resources for seniors as part of a strategy to help maintain independent living. Bill paying services, "meals on wheels," lawn care, house cleaning, and other services may be welcome. Very often, elders will prefer professional help over dependence upon family members.
Consider offering assistance with finances and financial decisions. Many older people are highly concerned about conserving resources for future needs for themselves or their spouses. Others have limited experience with current costs and may be anxious about being overcharged for materials and services. If adaptations or repairs are needed around the home, like adding railings on stairways, offer to help the individual make choices and deal with contractors.
Introduce the idea of change through small, minimally intrusive modifications, by offering gifts or services when you notice a need. For example, while replacing hard-to-reach light bulbs, upgrade the wattage for improved visibility. Try building suggestions for change around "I" messages. "I worry about you falling on those dark basement stairs. As a birthday gift, we are going to make sure your stairs are safe and well-lighted."
Many aging people face limitations on continued independent living in their homes only because the design and arrangement of furniture and living spaces no longer meet their needs. Consider calling on an occupational therapist to help you identify ways to improve safety in the home and to modify the environment to compensate for the disabilities your aging loved one is experiencing. Occupational therapists are specialists who help people deal with the effects of aging, illness and injury on their ability to manage daily life; an occupational therapist can assess and adapt a home environment to meet changing physical needs, and introduce these adaptations in ways that help the aging individual maintain dignity, self-sufficiency and self-esteem.
Patty McKinney, Occupational Therapist, is the owner and operator of Glenwood Springs Harmony House, an assisted living facility with peaceful accommodations and professional, qualified personal caregivers.