It’s the last week of February, which means that National Senior Independence Awareness Month (NSIA) is drawing to a close. Dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of seniors staying independent for as long as possible, this is a great opportunity to stop, take a step back, and check-in on our older loved ones.
Similar to spring-cleaning your house, the last week of NSIA month is an opportune time to review the level of safety of your loved ones’ living environment, weekly diet, exercise levels, and overall safety, physical and mental well-being.
Here is a checklist of 9 things you should do in the last week of Senior Independence Awareness Month to help ensure your loved one is facing the rest of the year with their best foot forward.
1. Schedule a doctor’s appointment to check in on their health
This is a perfect opportunity to double-check when the last time your loved one received a medical checkup was and to see if their next one is already planned. If it isn’t recorded on their calendar, take a minute to put it there and set a reminder on your phone the day or week before so you can make sure you have time to arrange transportation.
Before the appointment, make a list of their current medications to bring with you, or you can always bring them all. If you have any questions or concerns that you want to relay to the doctor, prepare a list of questions and topics so you are sure all relevant topics are discussed with the doctor during the appointment.
While you’re at the appointment with your loved one, be an active listener so that you can understand any advice or recommendations given by the doctor. If necessary, try to arrange for a follow up visit with the same doctor or specialist if further treatment is required.
After the appointment, be sure to keep track of all medical paperwork, prescriptions, lab results, bills, and insurance paperwork in order to stay organized.
2. Make sure an emergency contact list is updated
Regarding safety and security for our elderly loved ones, their ability to contact family and other support personnel quickly and easily will create a system that responds more quickly to their needs. Conduct an audit of their emergency contact list; this should include the contact information of family members, neighbors, friends, and any other individuals who could be called upon in an emergency situation.
In addition to this list, keep a record of any medical conditions or allergies that may require special attention in case of an emergency. Make sure all contacts on the list are reachable and that the list is easily accessible in a place where it can be quickly located, if needed. Consider teaching your loved one how to access this information on their own, if possible.
Double-check that speed dials are programmed into their phone, then go through the process of calling them with your loved one so they become more familiar with how the speed dial function works.
As a follow-up, contact everyone on speed dial and ensure they know the protocol and their respective responsibilities in case they have an emergency call. Make sure to identify what member of the family is the designated Health Care Agent in your loved ones Medical Directive, in case there is a need for a medical decision.
3. Help to organize any house clutter and make sure all necessary items are within easy reach
Organizing any house clutter for an older loved one can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. Keeping their living space neat and tidy will help make it easier for your loved one to be able to locate everyday items, which can help reduce confusion and apprehension.
According to Neha Khorana, Ph.D., a board-certified clinical psychologist based in Atlanta, “having a messy or cluttered environment can leave your brain feeling that your overall life is messy or disorganized, which can increase your feelings of depression and anxiety. It can [also] leave you feeling overwhelmed, especially if other things in your life are already stressful or you’re struggling with issues you have minimal control over.”
When organizing a home for a loved one, it’s essential to keep in mind the needs of the individual. This may include considering their physical limitations, such as reduced mobility and dexterity, or changes in vision that can impede their ability to find items quickly.
Identify items they use every day and relocate them into easy-to-reach places. This may include the telephone, medications, kitchen gadgets, medical supplies or equipment. Placing these items within easy reach is a great idea, especially if your loved one is physically limited or has difficulty seeing or hearing. Additionally, having a designated area for their keys, wallet, and other personal items can help them stay organized and reduce the risk of misplacing them.
Minimize clutter by getting rid of items they no longer need or use. This includes items that may present a tripping hazard, such as loose electrical cords or throw rugs. Keeping the home free of dust and dirt can also help reduce allergens and other irritants.
4. Need to improve your loved ones’ diet? Start with the refrigerator and freezer.
A great way for your loved one to have better access to healthy, nutritious meals is to make room for them by cleaning out their fridge, pantry, and freezer. Start by discarding any foods that have been in there for an extended period or are no longer edible, such as items that have expired or are moldy. Check expiration dates on products and remove anything that is past the due date.
Next, check for outdated items like condiments that may have been sitting in the fridge or pantry for months. After you’ve made some room, you can then work on stocking up on essentials that are building blocks of a healthy diet, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grain breads and pastas, as well as other healthy meal options.
A healthy diet is the building block for a healthy body. Providing simple to prepare healthy options puts them on a path towards eating nutritious meals each day. Doing this can also make meal planning easier, which is great if you’re caring for someone who may struggle to make decisions or remember what they need from the grocery store.
With a few simple steps, you can make sure your loved one has access to nutritious meals each day and avoid any potential health risks that could come from eating expired or moldy food. Taking the time to do this will help ensure they enjoy a healthy diet and have enjoyable meals throughout the week.
5. Improve diet through meal planning
In the days ahead, you can offer to help your loved ones with grocery shopping as well as meal planning and preparation. Providing them with healthy pre-made meals is a great way to do this, as they require minimal effort to heat up and serve. You can get them used to the meal preparation process by making some pre-made meals for them and delivering them to your loved one during the week.
If you are not available to bring them pre-made meals, you can create a menu for a companion to follow who can assist with grocery shopping and meal preparation. All you have to do is create a shopping list for the companion to follow and ensure that all the recommended food items are on it. When it comes to cooking the food, the companion can follow your instructions and recipes.
Healthy food groups to consider when creating a menu for your loved one:
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Whole Grains
- Low-Fat Dairy Products
- Lean Meats, Fish, Poultry, and Legumes
- Nuts and Seeds
- Healthy Oils Such as Avocado Oil and Olive Oil
- Water and Other Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Doing this can provide your loved one with a sense of relief, as they know that they will have nutritious and delicious meals readily available without having to worry about doing any extra work themselves. It is also a great way to show them the real value of a healthy diet and how eating well can affect their health and well-being.
6. Double-check their daily activity levels
It is important to encourage your loved ones to stay as active as possible in relation to their mobility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all older adults – both men and women – can benefit from regular, moderate physical activity. This is true even for people with medical conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure.
The National Institute of Health reports that exercise in older people has been associated with health benefits, such as decreased cardiovascular mortality, and provides benefits for the brain centers that support executive control of motor functions.
According to the National Council on Aging, regular activity has a positive effect on one’s physical health, as well as their mental and emotional wellbeing. It can also provide more daily energy, stronger self-confidence, and help your loved one face their golden years with a healthier, more active perspective.
Some key benefits of regular exercise include:
- Prevention of bone loss
- Relief from Osteoarthritis
- Helps to prevent chronic diseases
- Boosts immune system
- Improves overall mood
What types of exercise are most helpful for older adults?
The NCO has these recommendations: First, ideal exercises for older adults should be a mix of cardiovascular, strength/resistance training, and stretching and flexibility. As always, before an elderly loved one implements an exercise routine, they should consult with their physician first. Convey to them what exercises they might consider doing and follow their doctor’s recommendations. Some exercises to mention could be:
- Yoga or chair Yoga
- Aerobic exercises that help strengthen the lungs
- Light strength training
If they have trouble doing these exercises alone, they should check with local community centers in and around their town. There is usually some sort of exercise group available. If they have a family member or in-home companion available to spend time with them, then they have a built-in exercise partner.
Regular exercise is a great way to keep your loved ones in good spirits and help reduce feelings of isolation or loneliness. We’d also like to note that staying active is just as beneficial for the elderly as having a healthy diet – both are essential components of overall wellness.
7. In-depth review of all over-the-counter and prescribed medication.
Setting reminders and calendars for your older loved ones can help ensure that they stay on top of medications and appointments. It is a great way to provide them with the support your parents need to continue living independently.
In order to set up these reminders, you need to first understand what specific obligations your loved one needs to keep track of.
Make a list of all the tasks that need to be scheduled, such as medications, doctor’s appointments, social activities, or even just taking some time for themselves each day. Then create reminders that can be sent via text message or email. This way, your loved one can easily stay on top of their schedule without having to worry about forgetting something.
Review all of your loved one’s medications in-depth, including both over-the-counter and prescribed medications. Make sure that they are taking any prescribed medication as instructed, while avoiding dangerous drug interactions. Be mindful of the side effects of each medication and how they may affect your loved one’s daily activities or alertness. If necessary, reach out to their doctor or pharmacist for further information.
Also inform them of the importance of following doctor’s instructions when it comes to scheduling refills and monitoring progress. Providing this guidance will help ensure that they stay healthy while feeling more in control of their own life.
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), here are some things you should review with your loved one:
- Review your loved one’s medication with their doctor.
- Double check any possible issues with drug interactions.
- Review your loved ones diet and make sure there are no issues with drug food interactions.
- Double check that they are taking the medication as directed.
- Make sure that all their medications are stored properly, typically in a cool dry play.
- Do not store medication in a bathroom cabinet because the bathroom can be high in moisture and heat from showers and bathes.
- Check if any medication should be stored in a refrigerator
- Find a nice cool dry easily accessible spot for medication
- If children have access to the living space, make sure to keep all medication in an inaccessible spot.
You may also want to consider setting up a digital calendar or scheduling system for them. This will allow them to quickly and easily view all upcoming appointments and tasks at once. It is also helpful for family members, in-home companions, or medical caregivers to be able to access the calendar and see what is coming up.
8. Help to reduce their risk of injury at home.
Having a safe environment is essential for everyone, but especially those who are older. It is important to take time to check in with older loved ones to ensure that any safety concerns they may have are addressed.
According to the CDC, more than one in four adults (28%) over the age of 65 falls each year, leading to over three million emergency room visits. The CDC also reports that falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths for this age group.
The recommendations to help reduce the chances of these events occurring can be addressed by examining in-home fall risk factors, such as uneven steps, stairs without handrails, etc.
It is also significant to note that some medications can affect equilibrium and balance, which may increase the likelihood of a fall. Therefore, while you are reviewing your loved one’s medications, take note of them and speak to their physician to ask if any of their current medications have an associated fall risk.
After you have checked their medication, look for possible slip and trip hazards in the home that need to be addressed:
- Eliminate all obstacles from your floors or stairs – including small furniture, pet bowls, cords that run across the path, and other potential stumbling blocks.
- Never leave, or store items on staircases and hallways.
- Furniture should be arranged to allow your loved one plenty of space to walk freely.
- Get rid of loose carpets and rugs.
Check the floors
- Ensure carpets and rugs are securely fastened
- Check the bathroom and kitchen for laminate and tiled floors, as these can be slippery when wet. Look into buying non-slip bath mats and rugs.
- Dimly lit areas can pose a significant risk of falls and injuries, especially for seniors whose vision may be impaired. When it comes to their space, look for:
- Poorly lit areas that could pose as tripping hazards
- Shadows on the wall casted by objects and furniture
- Different lighting that can cause glares
- Double check that their lighting is good on the stairs and in the hallways. Put a lamp or flashlight within easy access to their bed, and check that the switches are easy to use in the dark.
- Install photosensitive nightlights around their house to light up the walking pathways,
- Ensure you thoroughly inspect any pieces of furniture with wheels or casters and if necessary, remove them in order to increase the stability. To prevent scuffs on their flooring, purchase some rubber pads from a nearby hardware store.
Storage closets and pantries
- Ensure that you closely inspect all of the cupboards your loved one can access and write down all items placed beyond reach. It is also a good idea to store any frequently used objects inside lower, more accessible cabinets for easy retrieval.
- Store those items that they don’t use often higher up, while keeping the ones used more frequently closer to the ground.
- To keep your loved one safe and injury-free, inspect the items stored in the bottom cabinet to see if any of them are too heavy for one person to lift from floor level. Make sure that no one has to bend over and strain their back while attempting to move a pot or other appliance.
To conduct a proper at home safety assessment, please refer to the following downloadable home safety assessment checklists:
- Home Safety Assessment Tool: Occupational Therapy Geriatric Group – University at Buffalo
- Home Safety Checklist – Aging and Disability Resource
- Home Safety Checklist – CDC
It’s key to remember that older loved ones can be more susceptible to potential safety threats, so doing what you can to ensure their safety is paramount. Safety should always come first!
9. Research nearby senior programs that might provide added support, companionship, or convenience.
As people age, they may have difficulty performing certain activities that were once routine. Finding support, companionship, and convenience can be especially beneficial for seniors who lack the ability to do things on their own. For this reason, doing research into nearby senior programs could be beneficial in providing additional assistance and comfort to older loved ones. Senior programs, such as meal delivery services and transportation options, can provide the support and convenience that seniors may need in order to maintain their independence.
Companionship services can be a great source of support for older loved ones. Companionship services provide seniors with someone to talk to and spend time with, which can help reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation that often come with aging. These services also offer assistance with tasks such as grocery shopping, errands, and other activities that may become more difficult as people age. Having someone around who is familiar with their needs can make life easier for seniors by providing them with the comfort and convenience they need in order to continue living independently.
In addition to researching nearby senior programs for additional support, there may be other local services available that can provide assistance as well. Many cities and towns have social service agencies that offer resources and support to elderly residents. Local churches, libraries, hospitals, and other community organizations often have programs designed specifically for seniors.
You should remember that finding the right senior programs for an older family member is a highly individualized process. Each program will have different criteria and requirements, so it is vital to look into the details of each service before making any decisions. Taking the time to research and find the right programs can make a huge difference in providing support and companionship for older loved ones.
Start Building Habits
It’s important to remember that senior independence isn’t just a one-time event. It should be something we should help our older loved ones strive for all year round, and the last week of Senior Independence Awareness Month is the perfect time to start building habits that will help them remain independent in their day-to-day life.
Taking these simple steps now can make a huge difference in helping seniors stay safe, healthy, and happy. Let’s work together to make sure our older loved ones have everything they need so that they can continue living independently!
The Maxim at Home team is here to help
Do you need help with a loved one? Then consider Maxim at Home’s homemaker and companionship services. Our team of friendly, compassionate Companions takes great pride in serving people in their own community who need light assistance with daily chores, some company and conversation, or convenient transportation for errands, appointments, or trips to the store.
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