How to Help Your Parent Maintain Their Independence as They Age

As your parents grow older, it's likely that your biggest goal as a family caregiver will turn towards ensuring their health, safety and wellbeing and to encourage them to continue living active, engaged, sociable and independent lives.

Seeing your once busy and vigorous parents begin to slow down and face the signs and symptoms of old age can be a disconcerting experience for any child, but rather than letting this shift fill you with dread, ask yourself: What can I do to support my parents and help them to continue living life as comfortably and independently people as possible? 

Here are 8 ways you can help...

1. Don't Become Overbearing - Let Them Take the Lead

It's important to remember that your parents are likely aware of the changes taking place in their bodies, minds, attitude, and energy levels. Just as there is no handbook for caring for ageing parents, there is also no handbook for grappling with the signs of ageing. In order to care for your parents with love and respect, try to bear this mind. 

At this stage of caring for your parents, remember that your goal is to motivate and to empower, not to take over and become a full caretaker. Regular communication and active listening will help you determine your level of involvement in their lives and what the boundaries are. As much as you want to ensure their happiness, comfort and wellbeing, allow them to establish what this means for them and not the other way round.

2. Motivate and Empower Them

As mentioned above, getting older is not always an easy experience. So, it's important to continue to inspire and motivate your ageing parents to pursue a healthy lifestyle and a positive outlook. You can encourage to:

  • Visit their GP for regular check-ups, or at least, more regularly than they used to
  • Continue to pursue their interests and hobbies (if it's safe to do so, otherwise, encourage and gently introduce new ones you think they'd enjoy)
  • Eat a balanced diet 
  • Move their bodies and exercise regularly
  • Keep in touch with their friends
  • Stay on track with medications and prescriptions (eyewear, etc.)

3. Introduce Technology

Often, seniors can be reluctant to take new technology on board. Usually, it's because technology can seem too fiddly and complicated, leading to frustration. However, many elderly people do enjoy tablets and smartphones once they learn how to use them - especially if it means more independence and access to the things they enjoy like photography, connecting with friends and family via WhatsApp or FaceTime, and entertainment Apps like Pinterest, YouTube, Crosswords, etc. By teaching your parents how to use these devices, (including how to access the torch, alarm, calendar and calculator) and introducing them to new Apps you think they'll enjoy, you'll enable them to stay connected to people, their interests, and to activities that stimulate their minds. 

4. Optimise Their Home

This includes making sure that your parents' home is safe and free of any obvious hazards. Chat with them to find out if they have any struggles or difficulties related to the layout of their home, gates, doors, steps/staircases, bathroom, etc. You can also ask them if they need any help with maintenance or upkeep with particular areas of the house and garden.

5. Encourage Them to Stay Social

Maintaining relationships is an important part of anybody's wellbeing. Regular social interactions are mentally stimulating and help elderly people to stay connected, engaged and in-the-know with the world around them. You can encourage this by asking your parents about their friends and encouraging them to catch-up with the ones they haven't seen in a while - reminding them of the fun they usually have when they see them. 

6. Help Them to Create a Daily Routine 

Productivity is an important element in keeping elderly people healthy - both physically and mentally. Productive tasks will vary from person to person based on their age, abilities, interests, ailments, etc. However, whatever routine they have can help to keep these productive, daily tasks in place. Routines can include: 

  • grocery shopping (driving and carrying their own grocery bags - if possible - is a great way for your parents to keep up their health and independence)
  • housework 
  • exercising 
  • cooking 
  • bathing
  • taking medications
  • connecting with friends/family/neighbours

7. Encourage Physical Activity

When it comes to ageing and physicality, the saying 'use it or lose it' is very much applicable. It's important for elderly people to continue to be physically active in order to maintain their mobility and physical ability. That's not to say they should be partaking in any activity that's overly strenuous or potentially dangerous, but rather, to keep moving in a capacity that helps the bones, joints and muscles in optimum health. These activities include:

  • walking
  • swimming
  • gentle yoga and daily stretching
  • pilates 
  • senior dance classes
  • gentle strength work with weights
  • gardening
  • and physical activity/movement your parents enjoy that they're still able to do without pain and potential injury 

Note: Encourage your parents to consult with their GP for advice on and approval of their physical activities. 

8. Encourage Mentally Stimulating Activities 

Mental stimulation is of course, just as important as physical stimulation. As previously mentioned, there are all kinds of everyday activities and task that can help to keep your parents mentally stimulated, such as daily routines, using technology and connecting with others. Some more activities include:

  • reading
  • writing/journaling
  • painting
  • continuing to play an instrument if they have that skill
  • playing board games (on or offline)
  • doing puzzles
  • DIY