By Cynthia Schuster Eakin
With the fall and winter months approaching, we should consider ways to stay safe and be connected with aging loved ones.
“As we get into winter, we should remind ourselves to do a home safety evaluation,” Lisa Weitzman, WeCare Manager of Business Development at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and a dementia care specialist said. “Is there anything inside the home that would cause someone to fall? Should a handrail be installed to make getting in and out of the bathtub easier?”
“You should also do an outside safety check prior to winter. Are there railings on the stairs? There may be one step up from the garage, but a handle on the wall might make it easier to get into the house. You should think about who is going to do the outside maintenance, like cleaning the gutters,” she added. “You should come up with a family safety plan. What happens if mom falls and she is alone? Does she have a safety bracelet? Think through an emergency situation and get everything in order so that you know what to do.”
In addition to maintenance inside and outside of the home, there are other things to consider when caring for older loved ones. “How do we bring community into the home? This year, COVID has certainly thrown a ringer into that,” Weitzman noted. “We need to help seniors access technology so that they are comfortable with it. We can help them understand that they can utilize technology and feel safe. A lot of people fear that they will lose something in a relationship by communicating through the computer. Even a phone is technology.”
“Technology can sometimes be a challenge for older adults. How do we get them to use resources that they are comfortable with? That resource is often the grandkids. They feel comfortable calling the kids to walk them through current technology,” she said. “There is even technology designed specifically for older adults. The GrandPad tablet has larger buttons and can be pre-programmed by family members. Then, they can simply press a button to facetime with the family, or to access a program at the senior center. Family can help older adults to stay connected and in control.”
“Seniors can have access to so much more these days, if someone can show them how to do it,” she said. “They can access virtual tours of art museums and concerts. Apollo’s Fire and the Chagrin Film Festival, for example, are offering virtual performances that can be viewed through your computer.”
“We should also make sure seniors are focused on nutrition. Are there comfort foods and nutritious snacks that they would enjoy? Enjoying food is a very social experience. So, if you don’t have that experience, older adults can lose interest in eating,” Weitzman explained. “Maybe you can have a virtual lunch together to add a social component to mealtime. You can also sign up for a home delivered meal program. When the delivery person knocks on the door, it reminds our older loved ones that it is time to sit down and eat. Then, you know that they have at least one warm, nutritious meal a day.”
“With the holidays coming up, we can think about new ways to create and enjoy family traditions. Think about the favorite dishes that your family enjoys during the holidays. You can each make those dishes at home and enjoy them at the same time through technology, even though you can’t be there together,” she said.
“If you do decide it is safe to visit relatives, the holidays may also be the first time that you have seen older family members in months. You have seen them through the computer, sitting in a chair. But, what does the rest of the house look like? You may have to be prepared to have a difficult conversation as a caregiver. The holidays can be a mixed bag for a lot of families,” Weitzman said.