February is National Senior Independence Month, a time to celebrate and honor the independence of older adults. Dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of older adults staying independent for as long as possible, this is an excellent opportunity to stop, step back, and check in on our older loved ones.
This month is an opportune time to review the safety of your loved ones’ living environment, weekly diet, exercise levels, and overall safety physical and mental well-being.
Here is a checklist of things you can do during Senior Independence Awareness Month to help ensure your loved one faces the rest of the year with their best foot forward.
Schedule a doctor’s appointment to check in on their health.
This month is a perfect opportunity to double-check the last time your loved one received a medical checkup and see if they have scheduled their next appointment. If they still need to note their appointment in 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, list their current medications to bring with you, or you can always bring them all. If you have any questions or concerns to relay to the doctor, prepare a list of questions and topics to discuss with the doctor during the appointment.
After the appointment, keep track of all medical paperwork, prescriptions, lab results, bills, and insurance paperwork to stay organized.
Make sure an emergency contact list is updated.
Regarding safety and security for our older loved ones, their ability to contact family and other support personnel quickly and efficiently will create a system that responds more rapidly to their needs. Conduct an audit of their emergency contact list, including the contact information of family members, neighbors, friends, and any other individuals who could help during an emergency.
In addition to this list, record any medical conditions or allergies requiring special attention in an emergency. Ensure all contacts on the list are reachable and that the list is easily accessible. Consider teaching your loved one how to access this information independently. 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.
Help organize any house clutter and ensure 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 will help make it easier for your loved one 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.”
Need to improve your loved ones’ diet? Start with the refrigerator and freezer.
An excellent way for your loved one to have better access to healthy, nutritious meals is to make room for them by cleaning 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 expired items or moldy. Check product expiration dates and remove anything 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 work on stocking up on essentials that are building blocks of a healthy diet, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grain bread and pasta, and other healthy meal options.
With a few simple steps, you can ensure your loved one has access to nutritious meals each day and avoid any potential health risks from eating expired or moldy food. Doing this will help ensure they enjoy a healthy diet and have enjoyable meals throughout the week.
Improve diet through meal planning.
In the days ahead, you can offer to help your loved ones with grocery shopping, 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 meal preparation by making pre-made meals for them and delivering them to your loved one during the week.
Suppose you are not available to bring them pre-made meals. In that case, you can create a menu for a companion to follow who can assist with grocery shopping and meal preparation. You must create a shopping list for the companion and ensure all the recommended food items are on it. When 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
Double-check their daily activity levels.
It is essential to encourage your loved ones to stay as active as possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all older adults – both men and women – can benefit from regular, moderate physical activity, even for people with medical conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure.
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 well-being. It can also provide more daily energy and 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?
Ideal exercises for older adults should include cardiovascular, strength/resistance training, stretching, and flexibility. Before an older loved one implements an exercise routine, they should consult their physician first. Some exercises to mention could be:
- Yoga or Chair Yoga
- Aerobic exercises that help strengthen the lungs
- Light strength training
If they need help with these exercises, they should check with local community centers in and around their town. There is usually some sort of exercise group available. Suppose they have a family member or in-home companion available to spend time with them. In that case, 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. Staying active is just as beneficial as having a healthy diet – both are essential to overall wellness.
Review over-the-counter and prescribed medication.
Setting reminders and calendars for your older loved ones can help them stay on top of medications and appointments. It is a great way to give them the support they need to live independently.
Review your loved one’s medications in-depth, including over-the-counter and prescribed medications. Make sure that they are taking any prescribed medicines 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.
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 one’s 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 appropriately stored, 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 baths.
- Check if any medication should be in a refrigerator.
- If children have access to the living space, make sure to keep all medication in an inaccessible spot.
Help to reduce their risk of injury at home.
A safe environment is essential for everyone, especially those who are older. It is important to check in with older loved ones to ensure that their safety concerns are addressed, especially regarding in-home fall risk factors, such as uneven steps, stairs without handrails, etc.
Here are some other hazards to look out for:
- 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.
- Arrange furniture to allow your loved one plenty of space to walk freely.
- Get rid of loose carpets and rugs.
- 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 older adults with impaired vision. When it comes to their space, look for:
- Poorly lit areas that could pose tripping hazards
- Shadows on the wall cast 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 furniture with wheels or casters and remove them if necessary to increase the stability. To prevent scuffs on their flooring, purchase rubber pads from a nearby hardware store.
Storage closets and pantries
- Store those items they don’t often use 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 they are too heavy for one person to lift from floor level. Ensure that no one has to bend over and strain their back while attempting to move a pot or other appliance.
It’s critical 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!
Research nearby senior programs that offer additional 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 older adults who cannot do things independently.
For this reason, researching nearby programs for older adults 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 older adults may need to maintain their independence.
Companionship services can be a great source of support for older loved ones. Companionship services give older adults 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 grocery shopping, errands, and other activities that may become more difficult as people age. Having someone familiar with their needs can make life easier for older adults by providing them with the comfort and convenience they need to continue living independently.
There may be other local services available that can assist as well. Many cities and towns have social service agencies that offer resources and support to older residents. Local churches, libraries, hospitals, and other community organizations often have programs for older adults.
Researching and finding the right programs can make a massive difference in providing support and companionship for older loved ones.
Start Building Habits Now
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 Senior Independence Awareness Month is the perfect time to start building habits that will help them remain independent in their day-to-day life.
These simple steps can make a difference in helping older adults stay safe, healthy, and happy. Let’s work together to ensure our older loved ones have everything they need to continue living independently!
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