Aging at Home and Remaining Independent – The Caring Generation®
The Caring Generation® – Episode 102 September 8, 2021. On this program, expert Pamela Wilson shares insights about aging at home. What aging adults, caregivers, and elderly parents must know to remain independent and self-sufficient today and in the later years of life.
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Helping Elderly Parents to Age at Home and Remain Independent
This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, eldercare consultant, and author. This week’s episode is a mini-pod or a mini-podcast episode that I create every other week for you to respond to issues and questions you share with me on social media, my online caregiver group, or by completing the caregiver survey on pameladwilson.com. Thank you for your continued requests and for sharing this podcast with everyone you know.
How to Help Parents Age at Home
Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel
This week we are talking about the idea of aging at home, a desire of most people. But aging at home is not always possible if a person has health issues—physical or mental—that result in difficulties living alone and being 100% self-sufficient. Think about this. Do you live alone today? If not, how would your life or lifestyle change if you lived alone? Would you live in the same house where you currently live, or would the house and yard be too much to take care of?
Would you continue to live in a home located in the country or a rural area or the suburbs that is farther away from grocery stores and doctor’s offices than you’d like? Are you prepared for the possibility of living alone? When we have a spouse or a partner to share responsibilities, things that don’t seem like a big deal become a big deal when we lose a partner through divorce, separation, or death.
Translate this to being a spousal caregiver. You care for a sick spouse who previously was able to share all of these responsibilities. Now you are the primary person managing all of this. It feels overwhelming. There are days when you have an emotional breakdown because of the stress and heavy responsibilities you carry.
This is the real day-to-day life situation of many older adults —you, your parents, grandparents, and you as their caregivers. Adult children ask me how to help aging parents or grandparents stay in their homes. Many wonder how to plan for the future. The idea of aging at home involves a wide range of considerations that most people don’t think of while they’re healthy and life seems carefree. Many questions about helping aging parents or managing life—if you live alone happen after a health issue occurs.
Aging at Home and Living Alone
After you lose a spouse, divorce, or have a friend in one of these situations who shares their experiences. Waiting to think about aging in place and planning for the eventuality of living alone at some point can translate to having fewer options. Let’s start with some simple numbers to illustrate that living alone when older is possible and very likely, especially for women.
According to research by Merck, 28% or 14.7 million older adults live alone. An older adult is anybody over age 60. This number represents 21% of older men and 34% of older women. These numbers increase with age. Forty-four percent of women age 75 years and older live alone.
If you are a woman, you may already be living alone. Aging at home means living in your home, be it a house, townhome, condo, or apartment, as long as possible and understanding the steps this takes from a physical, financial, and emotional perspective.
If you are a woman of any age, 20, 60, 70, being self-sufficient and independent is important because if you live to the age of 75, your chances of living alone are close to 50%. Let’s start by talking about mobility, which means getting around physically and why this is important for growing older at home.
Growing Older at Home – The Importance of Physical Activity
Being mobile means that you can walk, climb stairs, get in and out of bed, in and out of the bathtub or shower, participate in sports, walk 1-2 miles, ride a bicycle, and so on. Physical challenges happen at all ages due to sports injuries, falls, broken bones, hip or knee replacements, arthritis, nerve problems.
How many of you have stepped down off a curb or down a step and turned your ankle? If you’ve done this— I have on two occasions—you know it hurts. Turning an ankle happens in the blink of an eye and can take time to heal. If you have a parent who has fallen or experienced a fall and a fracture like a broken hip, parents say the same thing. I was turning, and suddenly, I found myself on the floor or the sidewalk.
This simple, unexpected, accidental turning of the ankle, breaking an arm, a hip can change the ability to perform activities for the rest of your life. Minor injuries at any age can affect the way that you walk or move. Perhaps you or an elderly parent leans or favors one side of the body because one side is injured or weaker than the other.
Any change in gait, spelled g-a-i-t, which means the way that you walk by putting one foot in front of the other, walking speed, posture, the way that you swing your arms when you walk, can indicate a potentially undiagnosed health issue. Health issues common to walking issues include fear of falling if a parent has fallen before. Falls occur because of physical weakness, poor balance, or coordination.
Persons with arthritis or back pain can have poor posture, balance, and muscle weakness. Aging results in muscle weakness if daily exercise and strength training are not part of a routine. Parkinson’s disease, dementia, cerebral palsy, urinary tract infections, and many other health concerns result in mobility difficulties.
If you or an elderly parent experience a fall and growing older at home is a priority, see your doctor to investigate potential medical concerns. Aging at home is a lifelong process that begins when young and continues until the end of life. Mobility problems that are not addressed or managed don’t improve with age. They become more problematic.
All Adults Benefit from Education About Aging
Similar to mobility issues resulting in challenges with aging in place, health issues, no surprise, is the next challenge. Because the body is pretty resilient when we are young, most of the issues that make growing older at home challenging don’t crop up until middle or older age. Unless you have cared for or are caring for a grandparent or aging parent, you may not be aware of what happens until you become a caregiver for aging parents.
This is the area where, in my opinion, the healthcare system and education systems don’t do their job. While there is talk about career planning and what children want to do when they grow up in families and schools, health education is missing. Students who participate in sports receive a little more counseling on health and nutrition than students who do not. If you’re lucky when young, someone or something will expose you to a person who has health problems, and you might take note.
For me, this sick person was my mother, Rose. If I had not had this experience with my mother, I don’t know what I would be doing today. If I would know everything about the effects of aging on the body and how this relates to exercise and preventative health. I know this because of my experience with my mother and more than twenty years of providing direct care and assistance to the elderly and disabled.
If you are listening, do a good thing to pay it forward. Share this episode and the other Caring Generation podcasts with friends, family, people at work, and in your social groups. The questions I answer for you in these shows can help many people who don’t know where to turn for reliable and trustworthy information about health, well-being, and aging.
On this topic, I want to share two other shows that support the idea of aging in place and growing older at home. The Caring Generation Episode 90 How to Stay Out of a Nursing Home has an interview with David Frost, a fitness trainer who talks about being healthy after age 50. The Caring Generation Episode 88 Taking Care of Family features an interview with Martha Tettenborn, a nutritionist and registered dietician who talks about the effects of nutrition on healthy aging and the prevention of chronic disease.
If no one has told you yet, exercise and good nutrition are essential to aging in place and your ability to grow older and live at home independently. No matter your age – start learning more about exercise and nutrition today. After this break, more on aging in place specific to the importance of finding reliable information you can trust. The Caring Generation is not limited by time zone or location—caregivers worldwide can listen any time of day.
Visit my website pameladwilson.com to check out my caregiver course online, Taking Care of Elderly Parents: Stay at Home and Beyond, with 30 hours of webinars and other information featuring practical steps for taking care of elderly parents, spouses, and how to make a plan for aging and health. It’s never too early to make a plan to live the best life possible today and in your later years. This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiver expert, consultant, and author on the Caring Generation. Stay
This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving speaker, expert, and advocate on The Caring Generation program for caregivers and aging adults. Whether you are twenty or 100 years old, you’re in exactly the right place to learn about caregiver support programs, health, well-being, and other resources to help you and your loved ones plan for what’s ahead.
If you’re not sure how to talk to your children about caregiving issues, or if you’ve tried to talk to your aging parents and that didn’t go so well, let me start the conversation for you. Invite loved ones to listen to this show or schedule a telephone or virtual eldercare consultation with me by visiting my website pameladwilson.com and clicking on How I Help, then Family Caregivers, then eldercare consultation.
Identifying Caregiver Resources
Let’s talk about searching the Internet for information about aging or senior services. If you’ve done this, you may have had a positive experience. More than not, caregivers tell me that they spend hours researching information only to become frustrated because they can’t get straight answers to their questions. Or they research and find so much information that they don’t know what to believe or who to trust.
Researching information about aging in place in an attempt to help yourself or an elderly parent grow older at home is a good activity. But it can take hours, days, or weeks to get the answers or the education you need to make good decisions. Many of my eldercare telephone consultations last only 30 minutes and I can answer most of your questions.
What to Do When Mom is a Fall Risk
I want to use a simple example of an elderly parent falling to give you an example of what I mean about searching for information. Your mother has balance problems, difficulty walking. Maybe she has had past falls, a hip replacement, knee replacement, or has fallen and fortunately not broken anything. You notice that mom has trouble getting around.
Mom is adamant about aging in place and staying at home. The doctor recommended a walker, but she refuses to use it or only uses it occasionally because only old people use walkers. Your mom doesn’t see her as one of those old people. Although let’s be honest, at 85, she appears older and frailer than most of her peers because of many health problems and the fact that she sits in a chair most of the day.
Mom falls again and fortunately does not break anything. But, she’s pretty bruised up. Your solution is to investigate one of those chairs that help older people stand up, called a lift chair because mom has trouble getting up out of a chair. You think if you buy the chair, mom will be less likely to fall.
What Is the Real Problem? – Why It’s Not Always Obvious
Let’s pause to stop and think for a moment. What problem are you trying to solve by purchasing a lift chair? Is it mom not falling? Is it mom being safe? Mom getting around better? If so, how does buying a comfortable chair help the situation? What if mom sits in the chair for more extended periods of time, maybe even starts sleeping in the chair. What if the lift chair results in mom using fewer muscles to stand up?
Is your goal to help mom improve physically or give her the incentive to move about less and become more physically weak? Think about that for a moment. That’s a good question—isn’t it? Adult children and family members desiring to be helpful and supportive often miss the mark in thinking about the bigger picture of their helpful actions.
The result for adult children caregivers is that they help parents have more challenges aging in place because of taking away the opportunity to continue to do as much as possible independently. Rather than buying mom a comfortable lift chair, my suggestion is to take mom to the doctor to see if there is a medical cause for the falls and ask for a physical appointment and exercises to address the physical weakness and balance issues mom is experiencing.
Adults of all ages can build muscle and increase their cardiovascular abilities. This includes caregivers of aging parents. If you are genuinely committed to doing what is best for a parent, commit to exercising with mom or dad and exercising yourself. Have your children join in. Turn exercise into a family activity.
Exercise and strength training is one of the types of work and effort that I meant when, at the beginning of this program, I said that adults want to age and grow older at home, but they don’t really know what it takes. Aging in place requires gaining an understanding of how even the most minor decision you make can have the opposite effect of what you truly want.
A lift chair is the last thing you want if you or you hope to help an aging parent to remain physically able and independent. Learning to problem-solve health and aging issues is a skill that everyone can learn with a bit of help. It’s easier to avoid problems related to growing older at home if you get in front of the Issues that might happen by being proactive rather than chasing after the issues.
The Risks of Doing Nothing
Let’s take this situation with mom one step further. She’s frail, weak, has poor balance. Mom could do physical therapy exercises, but she thinks they are too much work, unnecessary, or plain hooey. Or mom is willing to do the exercises, but the doctor says it’s probably going to take six months of consistent effort to see progress.
Because mom’s body is so weak, you have a dilemma on your hands. Mom is one fall away from permanently living in a nursing home. In addition to the physical weakness and falls, you notice mom doesn’t take her medications as she should, and she certainly doesn’t eat right because she is losing weight. Both of these concerns complicate aging in place at home for mom.
This is a point where thinking about the consequences of doing nothing is important. Meaning do you let mom stay at home and continue to be a fall risk. This can have dire consequences for moving to a nursing home after the next fall and broken bone. On the other hand, if mom had a little more help at home, she might be safer. Or if mom moved to an assisted living community, she might have more support with medications and meals around all hours of the day.
If mom has income and savings to pay for care, making this decision might be easier if you can get mom to agree on some type of help. If there is no money to pay for care, then what? Then it’s time to look at selling the home to create funds to pay for living in a care community or if there is no home to sell investigating services through Medicaid if mom is low income and has no money to pay for care.
The point is—there are options when you sequentially identify the real problem that is not solved by buying a lift chair. Buying a lift chair leaves you with the same problem. Mom being physically weak and potentially falling makes this problem a disaster waiting to happen. Problem-solving aging in place issues is complicated. It’s not easy, especially if you have no background in the scope of issues to consider.
If you want help with this you can schedule a telephone or video call eldercare consultation with me. You can also get ahead of the issues that aging presents by taking my online caregiver course that is in webinar video form. So, it’s like watching a bunch of videos. The course is called Helping Elderly Parents: Stay at Home and Beyond. Information for requesting an eldercare consultation and signing up for my course are on my website at pameladwilson.com.
We’re off to a break. When we return, we will talk about being an older adult on your own and the things you want to watch out for specifically to successfully growing older at home that can start as early as middle age in your 50’s or 60’s and things to watch out for about potential vulnerability or abuse.
Thank you for joining me on The Caring Generation – the only program of its kind connecting caregivers and aging adults worldwide to talk about caregiving, well-being, health, and everything in between. Invite your family and friends to listen each week. This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker. I’ll be right back.
This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, eldercare consultant, and educator on The Caring Generation. Does your company offer caregiver support programs? If not, now is the time to ask. Caregivers contact me stressed about juggling work and caregiving, yet they don’t realize they don’t realize that they can talk to human resource managers at their companies about their concerns. Human resource managers can’t read your mind. If you want help, ask for support.
Ask your company for caregiver education programs. Companies can provide access to my online courses for employees or offer speaking events to address specific topics, including question and answer sessions. Share my website pameladwilson.com with the human resources manager at your company.
Aging Bias Exists
In this last segment of the show, I want to talk about aging in place specific to issues beginning as early as age 50 and 60 and seniors being taken advantage of by scams or in simple interactions like home or car repairs or being ignored by doctors. Like it or not, aging has some negative connotations. Older people may be viewed as slower talking, slower-moving, less savvy than younger people, and age bias exists not only for older people of both sexes, but also for women.
Here’s an example from my own life a few weeks ago for women who take their cars to dealers or repair shops for maintenance. I have a car dealer I go to for routine maintenance on my car. Have never had a problem with this particular dealer. But this time, I made an appointment for a 15K service. When I arrived, they didn’t tell me that they put my car into the express service. If you take your vehicle for maintenance, you know there is a difference between the repair shop and express service.
So, I’m sitting in the lobby at the car dealership, and I get a text with recommendations for about $1,000 of service. Only one item of which could have been relevant but all of the others had been done. I knew I didn’t need anything the serviceperson was recommending. I replied to the text and asked that somebody come and talk to me about the recommendations. The person finally showed up after about 15 or 20 minutes. saying that they were busy.
And I’m thinking, right—too busy to talk to a customer that you’re asking to spend $1,000. That’s a bunch of nonsense. Anyway, I declined the service I went and paid for the service, didn’t schedule anything else. But after leaving I called my regular service person and asked him to look at the recommendations. He confirmed that I had already completed all of the other maintenance items over time but suggested that I schedule an appointment to return for the one item that we didn’t know about. I returned, and no surprise, there was nothing wrong with my car that needed any repairs.
So, let’s say that you are a person who doesn’t schedule regular car maintenance or you don’t keep records to know what services you have done on your car or not. You receive the $1,000 estimate, and you might think you need all these things done. Do you or don’t you? Should you be worried?
Become Educated about Choices That Support Aging in Place
This situation with a car mechanic is no different from seeing a doctor if you haven’t kept up on your medical and preventative care and have records you can refer to. The lesson is that if you do not pay close attention to the details of your health and the components of what it takes to age in place, then one day you may find yourself in a vulnerable situation not knowing what to do or who to trust.
You may not sure who is helping you determine what you need or who is selling you a bunch of false information? Women and the elderly are vulnerable to being taken advantage of when you don’t ask questions, have a pattern of doing something, or have the facts. When it comes to decision making, in all areas of life, not only caring for yourself or an elderly parent, you fare better when you can talk to someone, like myself, who has experience with the concerns you are working to address.
Don’t place yourself in a position of being uncertain, taken advantage of or scammed by a person who intimidates you. Instead, find a trusted advisor who can give you the pros, the cons, and the facts so that you can make the best decision. Aging in place takes planning and an interest in learning about all of the factors that support growing older at home.
The earlier you begin to think about the later years of life, the more opportunity you have to influence the outcome of where you will live and how you will live. Even though there may be difficult decisions to make later in life, you may find that you have many more options than others who didn’t plan or consult a trusted advisor before making a life-affecting decision.
Please share this episode of The Caring Generation with friends, family co-workers, and social groups. People helping parents and families worldwide are lookmy book The Caregiving Trap, online caregivers courses, my Caring for Aging Parents Blog, videos, and over 100 episodes of The Caring Generation answering your questions about caregiving, aging, health, family relationships, and more.
I’m Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, eldercare consultant, and speaker. I look forward to being with you again soon. God bless you all. Sleep well tonight. Have a fabulous day tomorrow and safe journeys until we are here together again.
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