Your mom used to spend her Saturdays bustling around the house. Now, she prefers to spend all of her time sitting down in her favorite chair, and seems afraid of slipping and falling every time she gets up. Does this sound familiar?
If a senior loved one in your life is dealing with mobility issues, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, mobility problems are among the most common challenges that seniors face as they age in place.
Limited Mobility: A Major Health and Lifestyle Challenge for Seniors
Even adults who have lived incredibly healthy and active lives can have some difficulty with movement as they get older.
Seniors can start to lose some of their mobility due to any number of causes. It is quite natural for older adults to lose some muscle mass due to age-related changes, which can be made worse by malnutrition and a lack of exercise. In other cases, seniors may face changes to their mobility after suffering even a minor fall or injury. Chronic pain and illness can make it harder for seniors to be active, while some medications may cause dizziness or a loss of balance. Still other seniors may find their activity levels limited due to an underlying physical health condition, such as arthritis or osteoporosis.
For older adults, losing some ability to move around freely can have a significant impact on quality of life. Many seniors with limited mobility can have difficulty with performing other routine activities of daily living (ADLs), including grooming, dressing, and using the restroom. Many seniors may feel embarrassed or frustrated by their physical limitations, and might respond with anger or sadness. Seniors who have lost some mobility may also withdraw, and start to isolate themselves from friends and family, leading to loneliness and feelings of depression.
Helping Seniors Face Mobility Problems
As a family caregiver, one of the most important things you can do to help your loved ones is to watch out for warning signs that they may be experiencing mobility problems. Looking out for common yellow flags can help you start to take action and make changes — even if your loved one is hesitant to share their feelings and experiences with you directly. Keep an eye out to see if your parent or senior loved one seems to be:
- moving gingerly or slowly
- holding onto furniture and walls for support
- avoiding the stairs
- groaning or experiencing difficulty when sitting down or standing up
- swaying or having trouble with holding their balance
- avoiding movement and activity altogether
If you notice any of these signs, it may be time to think about having this difficult discussion with your loved one and the rest of their caregiving team. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can take concrete steps to help your loved one live a more healthy, full, and independent life.
With this in mind, what can family caregivers do to make a difference in the lives of seniors with limited mobility? Here are five ways to help seniors safely manage mobility problems at home:
1.) Get Support from a Senior Companion
For seniors who need a helping hand to live independently, a professional caregiver may be just the right choice.
Non-medical home care — also known as companion care and respite care — can help give your loved one the support they need to live life to the fullest. Available on a flexible schedule that suits your needs, as well as your senior loved one’s, a companion can provide hands-on help with ADLs — from lending a supportive arm to seniors as they sit or stand, to assisting with personal matters like bathing, grooming, and dressing. A companion can also provide assistance with housekeeping, laundry, and meal preparation, to help minimize the risk to seniors while still encouraging independence. Companions can also provide reliable driving services, as well as lots of friendly companionship and social support.
With a companion assisting your loved one on a regular schedule, you can be sure that they’ll always have an encouraging and caring presence in their life — who can also take action and notify you immediately in case of a fall, injury, or accident.
2.) Make Their Home Accessible and Accommodating
Does your loved one live in a safe and accessible environment? Studies have shown that nearly 90% of older adults want to age in place in the comfort and safety of home. For caregivers, it’s important to take steps to make sure that your senior loved one’s home will keep up with their changing needs.
Depending on your loved one’s circumstances, there are lots of steps you can take to make their home safer and more accommodating:
- Get rid of hazards, including overstuffed shelves and piles of clutter on the floor
- Fasten or remove rugs
- Create accessible walking paths around the home by rearranging furniture
- Rearrange the home to make it more senior-friendly; for example, you could encourage your loved one to move their bedroom to the ground floor, in order to avoid stairs
- Improve the lighting throughout the home
- Help hazard-proof the bathroom and kitchen with grab bars and non-slip mats
- Encourage your loved one to wear non-slip footwear
- Think of accessible additions and renovation projects you can tackle, such as adding a gentle ramp over the front stairs; installing a stairlift to the second level; or widening doors and hallways for wheelchair access
3.) Look Into Mobility Aids
Consult with your loved one’s doctor to see if they recommend a common mobility aid. Depending on your loved one’s needs, this might include a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair. All of these devices can make a dramatic difference for seniors, helping them regain their freedom to move about and improving their quality of life as a result. If your loved one is encouraged to use a mobility aid, be sure to look into guidelines to make sure that it’s the right size and fit for them. You may even be able to enlist someone to help show your senior loved one how to get used to using their devices safely and confidently.
4.) Provide Emotional Support
Keep in mind that experiencing physical changes and limitations can be frightening and frustrating for the elderly. Many seniors will start to feel angry or resentful of their situation, and may complain when you try to lend a hand. Many older adults will also react with fear. The senior in your life may start to become afraid of falling and suffering an injury. Just as often, seniors fear that losing some of their ability to get around means that they’re losing their independence. They’re afraid that losing their mobility means giving up a part of themselves, and is a sign that they’re becoming “old.”
As a caregiver, be empathetic and supportive. Listen to your loved one, and try to be respectful, patient, and aware of their needs. Be flexible, and recognize that helping your loved one may be a process that moves in fits and starts.
To help your loved one adjust, look for local support groups. There are many meetups for seniors that focus on getting used to the changes that come with aging. Be on the lookout for symptoms of depression and anxiety, and be ready to get a healthcare professional’s help if needed.
To help counterbalance the possibility for loneliness and isolation, you might also wish to help find ways for your senior loved one to be more social, from bringing on a senior companion, to teaching them to use technology to connect with long-distance family.
5.) Encourage the Senior to Focus on Exercise and Healthy Eating
It’s never too late for seniors to get up and get active — as long as you’re helping them to do so safely and respectfully. Even a little bit of exercise and a few simple lifestyle changes can help your senior to enjoy improved mobility and overall health.
As one prominent study published in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews journal puts it:
“There is a wealth of evidence that mobility function is closely linked to cardiovascular and muscular fitness, and, therefore, exercise can have an important role in prevention and treatment of mobility impairments… Behavioral interventions that use lifestyle modification of physical activity behaviors are promising and there is evidence of benefit in specific ‘at risk’ populations.”
Before helping your loved one start any fitness regimen, be sure to consult with their doctor. A health expert may encourage your loved one to try physical therapy, or offer recommendations for low impact exercises that can help increase the senior’s daily levels of physical activity. Remember to focus on safety, respect your loved one’s limits, and offer positive reinforcement whenever you can.
In addition to physical activity, your loved one’s healthcare team may also recommend dietary changes that can help make a difference. Eating a diet focused on nutrient-dense foods and protein, for example, may help seniors maintain a healthy weight and get the fuel necessary for keeping their muscles and bones strong.
Companions for Seniors Is Here to Help
If you have an elderly loved one who could benefit from the daily assistance or companionship of a professional caregiver, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the experts at Companions for Seniors to get the conversation started.
We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs, and we’re always here to answer any questions you may have about any aspect of caring for your aging loved one.
Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help you and your family shoulder some of the responsibilities of caring for the senior in your life. We help provide older adults with a higher quality of life physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, while also offering respite and peace of mind for family caregivers who might need some support.
We offer personalized care plans for each of our clients, all available on a flexible schedule that works for your unique needs.
Have any questions? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our handy online contact form, available here.