As we get older our bodies and minds may fail us and faculties begin to slow down. These changes result in varying degrees of losses of efficiency and function. Several factors such as genetics, illnesses, socioeconomics and lifestyle, determine the ageing progress in an individual.
Elder care also known as Geriatric care, involves considering the emotional, mental and physical well-being of the old person under your care. They could be your parents or any other elder in your family. When a loved one ages, it is never going to be easy.
We must understand that seniors in their later years are already struggling to feel good about themselves. We must make conscious efforts of not making that worse. While it may be stressful at times, we must keep in mind that it is not easy for them to become dependent on you or others for their care.
As children grow into adults and young parents turn into senior parents, many times the family gets pulled apart and sometimes that distance has to do with location. Other times it is created, by life becoming busier and children of ageing parents having their own families to take care of. In our busy lives, it is easy to forget the amount of meaning an elder will experience if we take time out of our day to say ‘hello’ and chat.
If you live too far from your elderly loved one, to see them on a regular basis, pick up the phone and call them. Phone calls are a personal way of saying you care. Regular phone calls, Skype calls or video calls with family and friends can enhance your loved one’s mood. Caring for the elderly in your family is not just about appointing a caretaker or employing a doctor or nurse to look after them. It is also about being empathetic, patient and taking sometime out in our busy lives to spend time with them.
Mental health has a direct impact on Physical health and vice versa. In the elderly, the sense of self worth diminishes with decreasing attention from other members of the family and society. Spending some quality time with them, exchanging kind words, being a good listener and regularly staying in touch, is a great way of telling them that they are still loved and needed.
When parents or a close elderly relative, come under our care, they are in this dependent role anyway. We can fall into the trap of using language and behaviours that can validate in their mind the negative views that they are helpless. Speaking down to the elderly only affirms to them, that we believe they are frail, weak, and helpless. We can damage their emotional well-being and as such, negatively affect their health.
Look out for signs of depression or anxiety, such as irritability, sadness, lack of energy, or loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. Encourage them to socialise. Older adults who spend time with friends, stay physically, emotionally, and mentally healthier than those who don’t. Urge your loved one to socialise as much as possible, even if it’s just chatting on the phone with a friend. Use of internet can also help to combat loneliness and boredom. Help them in getting a little internet savvy.
The mental health of older adults can be improved through promoting Active and Healthy Ageing. Help them stay active. Decrease in physical activity accelerates Sarcopenia which is age related. It constitutes loss of muscle mass, strength and function. Ensure they get regular exercise. Go for nature walks with them. Those who are unable to exercise independently can still benefit from being active. Passive Range of Motion (ROM) exercises can help elderly people maintain joint mobility. These exercises involve moving the person’s limbs for them to help limber up their joints. Ask a doctor or physical therapist to show you how to do these exercises correctly.
Help your loved one find activities, clubs or classes that will keep their minds and bodies occupied even when family members are not around. It is crucial that they feel safe, loved and connected. Let them do simple day-to-day chores which can give them control and make them happy. Ensure proper senior care is provided in your absence.
Becoming a caregiver can feel overwhelming. At times it can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Whether you choose to be there for your elders, simply because of your love or because of your sense of duty, either way, you have two choices: You can fall apart or you can find inner strength. The effects of care giving can affect your own health and well-being. Evaluate your own health and stress levels when determining how much assistance you can offer.
Sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, failure to exercise, failure to stay in bed when ill, and postponement of or failure to make medical appointments for yourself are common mistakes the caregiver can make. Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. So make sure to stay positive and take time for your own needs as well. You must remain healthy in order to take care of anyone else. Caring for the elderly should not be a burden or a responsibility to bear alone. In addition to siblings and other family members, there are experts, professionals, resources, and loads of information to help you in caring for your elderly loved ones.
“One goal of the mindful caregiver is to find ways to not feel ‘dis-eased’ in the caregiving process.”
― Nancy L. Kriseman