How to empower disabled elderly to maintain independence in their lifestyle
How changes can affect the basics in life
Family members and friends can help our elderly loved ones retain independence even through an evolving process of mobility reduction. In this guide we’ll offer some thoughts around how this might be done. Along with consultation with your local health providers and occupational therapists, there’s still plenty of opportunity for independence; even if the way this is achieved is a bit different.
Getting prepared for safe solo-living
Set the house up for solo-living safely
One of the first things you can do to empower your elderly loved one to enjoy independence is making the home a safe, easy environment to live in. While the level of mobility impairment your loved one may experience can evolve gradually, it’s a good idea to have the home prepared for someone with significantly reduced mobility well in advance. This process needs to be done in concert with your loved one, as they ultimately have the agency to make their own decision about their home.
If you want to read more about making the home easier for mobility impaired seniors, head over to another guide in this series: Ways To Make The Home Easier For Mobility Impaired Seniors.
Once the home is free of hazards and you have helped establish some assistive technologies and equipment to aid movement, your loved one should enjoy more independence in their own home, even if a carer is required for some activities. Note this depends entirely on your individual situation and the level of mobility or severity of underlying condition, so always consult with your loved one’s health provider.
How to retain a sense of control by using routines
Ensure your loved one is in control of the daily and weekly routine
Imagine spending your entire life planning your own day, week and month, then having this ability taken away. It’s hardly something that anyone is going to find pleasant. And for a great deal of mobility impaired senior citizens, they don’t need this decision making taken off of them entirely. In fact, decisions around the daily routine can go a long way to reinforcing that feeling of independence.
The idea of ‘control’ is complex when it comes to mobility issues. Ultimately, your parent, partner, sibling or friend who is encountering mobility challenges as a senior needs to be calling the shots – provided they’re assessed as capable of doing so by health professionals. In a significant portion of the elderly users we interact with each day, the impairment is largely physical, unless another condition that affects the cognitive ability is present. For that reason, it’s not only appropriate but entirely reasonable to put the decision making ability in the hands of your elderly loved one. You, carers and other friends and family are there purely to empower independence and help make arrangements accordingly.
Sit down, potentially with the help of an independent health professional such as the occupational therapist and discuss what the daily routine looks like. Then outline the weekly activities or commitments that your loved one would like to keep up – some will be social or hobbies, others will be medical appointments.
As you work through this schedule, you’ll want to uncover with your loved one how they would like to go about doing all of these things, including the transport approach and logistics around mobility whilst attending them (i.e. does a family member take you there, do you need a walker while attending, etc).
Without your loved one being at the helm of this schedule planning, they’re not empowered to feel independent with their decisions about their lifestyle. If they have made decisions around the specific details of each activity, then the underlying mobility support (from a carer or equipment) may simply be a background detail to what’s ultimately a choice of them – and not somebody else.
Help facilitate catch ups with friends
Socialising with friends, especially those with whom your loved one has shared years of history with is almost like a time machine; anyone with a long term friend will know the feeling of ‘picking up where we left off’.
For an elderly loved one, this isn’t just a chance to see an old friend, but an occasion where they aren’t focusing on their mobility or a ‘change’ in lifestyle. It’s really important that we continue seeing our friends all through our lives, especially as we progress into the latter stage of life. Catching up with friends is an opportune time to reminisce, share stories and hear about others’ news.
As a carer or support person, your role just needs to be making sure these catch ups happen; whether that’s transport, contacting the friend or hosting. From that point, you may not even need to be in the room – this may help further reinforce the ‘independence’ of the occasion.
There can be times where our elderly loved ones are going through health or mobility challenges that cause them to withdraw into their shell. As much as you can, encourage continued social interaction as this is even more valuable when things are tough.
Using hobbies and family time to create purpose and joy
Supporting new and existing hobbies to carry on through reducing mobility
In retirement, our interests and activities are what helps round out our sense of purpose and identity. While the career has gone and children have grown up and followed their own path, it’s our interests that often bring us joy on a regular basis.
If your loved one has a lifelong hobby or interest that’s been pushed out by degrading mobility, it might be time to have another discussion with their OT or doctor about ways to stay involved with that sport or hobby whilst negotiating a physical obstacle. These challenges are exactly the problem solving that the OT is trained to help your loved one overcome.
Having a hobby or activity that’s unrelated to daily living or health is so important for our sense of independence. Without something that’s ours and ours alone to focus on, it’s easy to become identified by the mobility impairment.
New hobbies can also be taken up to account for a new lifestyle as a mobility impaired senior. For example, hobbies like collecting, history or attending live music and theatre are all low-mobility interests that can be highly rewarding. Your loved one may need some options to pick from – having multiple interests is even better.
Include them in all family events
Do not make the mistake of excluding an elderly loved one out of consideration on their level of mobility. The choice ultimately shouldn’t be yours to determine if they are capable but rather something they feel in control of deciding on. Extending the invite not only makes your loved one feel included but adds to their sense of belonging and freedom to be part of their family’s lives.
Even a family event or trip where the context may suggest a high degree of physical activity such as a ski trip or trip to the lake may still be possible for your elderly loved one to come on, even if their participation is more from the sidelines. Ask any senior citizen in your community and you’ll know how beneficial spending time with family can be on their wellbeing.
How lots of small daily choices can help
Put the decision making of daily life in their hands
It’s the small things that add up to a sense of independence. And when we say small, we mean things that might seem mundane to anyone else, but to someone with less than 100% independence, their ability to have choices is a major deal.
Daily decisions are made every minute of the day:
- What biscuit to have with tea
- Which supermarket to go to for groceries
- What to have for dinner
- What to watch on TV
- The order in which to get dressed
No matter how minor it may seem, decisions should where possible be that of your loved one, not the carer or family member. If there is a condition that affects cognitive function, you should work closely with the occupational therapists and health professionals to determine to what degree decisions can be made independently vs. with the help of a carer.
It’s called Carer “Support” for a reason
Work with an aged carer to remove the hard jobs and leave the more manageable ones
Creating a lifestyle that feels at least partially independent is about categorising daily tasks by those your loved one can do themselves, those they need some help to complete with some personal input, and those that need to be done entirely by a carer or family member. Ideally the tasks that are outside the capabilities of your elderly loved one profile of mobility will be handled in the background, with the jobs that are within reach of them being made available for them to manage.
As your occupational therapist will no doubt tell you, it’s a good idea not to assume that something is too hard for your loved one. Working out these jobs needs to be part of a conversation with them (if this is practical), so that it’s agreed upon who does what.
Taking care of more jobs than is needed will quickly leave a mobility impaired loved one feeling like they don’t have a say and aren’t considered as capable as they actually are. It’s not going to help them to feel independent, so make sure ample space and opportunity is given for them to do as much as they want on their own. Remember, the duties can be looked at again and refined with the OT as many times as is necessary.
The benefit of projects and having things to work on
Encourage projects to work on
Any of us who’ve got a few years of adult life under our belt may know that having a long term project to work on, whether that’s DIY, landscaping the garden or even something related to school or our job can take plenty of our attention and effort. While some of these projects may not always be ‘for fun’, it’s when we don’t have something going on that we can really notice how anchoring such activities can be.
After a lifetime of various ‘projects’, a senior with reducing levels of mobility may feel like they’re not equipped to tackle something new. But the reality is that there are projects for all levels of mobility to work on.
As a friend or family member, you can help find these projects and come up with ways to tackle them with the mobility impairment considered in collaboration with the occupational therapist. It could be anything from recording their memoirs or a series of art pieces – that’s up to your loved one.
More information about this topic:
You can find useful information about this topic across the web via the following excellent online resources:
Introduction To Assistive Technologies For The Elderly
As technology advances every year, the quality of life for a mobility impaired senior improves along with it. Assistive technology helps conduct daily activities with less effort, supporting a better quality of life.
Tips For Transporting Elderly With Mobility Challenges
Getting from place to place becomes a slower, more complicated process when personal mobility reduces over time. And there’s no doubt that most seniors in retirement still have an appetite for socialising, shopping, travelling or simply having a change of scenery locally.
Ways To Make The Home Easier For Mobility Impaired Seniors
Our homes in retirement should be as accessible and simple to live in as possible. With reduced mobility comes more chances of hazards through a poorly laid out or cluttered home. Access into and out of the home becomes critical for safety.
How To Navigate Bathroom Challenges Faced By Elderly People
Using the bathroom as a senior citizen experiencing a loss in coordination, muscle strength and manoeuvrability can provide a daunting task. There’s perhaps more unique and tricky body movements required in a bathroom routine than any other part of daily life.