Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
The older generation has a wealth of experience and wisdom to share as they stay connected with their world. However, the opportunity to have their stories heard and be a positive influence with family and friends and in the community can be compromised as we age.
One of the biggest challenges facing the older generation is loneliness and isolation. Some of us are fortunate to remain connected with those closest to us and manage to keep engaged in purposeful activities. For others, as conditions of aging become more prevalent, isolation may increase as the ability to access the outside world decreases.
If we are the older adult, what can we do to stay connected with our community and continue to make a contribution? If we are the son or daughter of an older adult, what can we do to reduce potentially challenging circumstances that lead to social isolation?
We need to look at how to support independence. It sounds counter intuitive, but introducing a little help earlier in the aging journey will go a long way to maintaining a higher quality of life and reducing preventable decline. The help can be from family and friends who can commit to being available on a regular or as-needed basis. Sometimes it makes sense to also invest in additional services to support the primary caregivers. A few stories come to mind as examples:
It has been our privilege to support a client with moderate dementia remain engaged in meaning activities such as having lunch with a peer group, volunteering in a greenhouse and visiting with long term care residents. Family was also highly engaged with their loved one in a variety of ways; our role was to provide companionship and outings while family members were at work.
An older adult with lots of vitality but lacking some physical mobility is able to remain in her home and spent her energy on the things that matter most to her. She is delighted to have a few visits per week for assistance with practical tasks in her home, which frees her up to take an art class and spend more time with family and friends, rather than needing “two days to recover” after changing the bedding or vacuuming.
One woman who was living with dementia was able to keep up her routine of swimming lengths at the pool each morning. The CAREGiver picked up her client, provided some cueing in the change room and assisted the client into the water. After that, pure joy! We also ensured the client was eating nutritious food and drinking enough water each day.
One gentleman lives on his own, family are out of town. He enjoys going for drives, stopping in at favorite, familiar coffee shops and venues. The CAREGiver encourages and assists with walking and other activities.
In helping their loved one remain independent and engaged in the community, family caregivers may reach a point where they need to make changes in their caregiving routine so that their energy is sustainable for the long term. While it can be a difficult decision, it is commendable when a family member can see the threat of burnout on the horizon and put plans in place for their own health so that they can continue providing care for a family member.
One of the ways to move forward is to acknowledge there is or could be a problem and seek agreement amongst those in our circle to address specific concerns. Often, the concerns are obvious: signs of aging – poor balance, loss of appetite, reduced mobility, lack of personal care, lack of medication management, loneliness, reduced cognition and the toll providing care is taking on family members. Sometimes these conditions are health related which can be improved medically. Decide what’s most important to address first and move in that direction. Determine to have a respectful, open handed, open hearted conversation.
To address being treated or treating other older adults with respect and ensuring social inclusion, here are a few reflective questions which may be helpful for you or family members.
- What is the biggest barrier to talking with our parents about how things may need to change as they age? Or, if we are the older adult, what is the biggest barrier preventing me for sharing my wishes or concerns with my children or closest friends?
- When it comes to helping older adults stay engaged in activities and connected in the community, what are some of the problems families face?
- In your situation, what are the three biggest concerns you are currently aware of?
- In your situation, what three things can you do this week to begin addressing your concerns?
M.Div., M.Ed., CPCA
Home Instead Senior Care