Mental health challenges are being felt by so many, in so many different ways at the moment. Here we take a look at five key tips to help support elderly loved ones' health and wellbeing.
We all know it's important to stay fit and healthy, even more so as we get older. If your elderly loved ones are able, try to encourage them to do a bit of exercise each day. There are countless benefits from taking part in regular exercise, including improved flexibility, strength, co-ordination, concentration and mood. Whether it's a short stroll, or simple stretches and exercise routines in the home, exercise can be really rewarding and enjoyable. Maybe there's some music your parent particularly enjoys - having that play while they move around the house may encourage some gentle dancing!
A daily routine needs to be based around day to day activities and will help set in place the same actions at generally the same time each day or week. Not only does this help the day flow better, but also ensures that very important things get done without fail, such as medication management, regular nutritious meals, and daily hygiene. This structure Scheduling in when to do their washing, food shops, exercises and hairdresser appointments for example, will help to keep a feeling of control and provide a sense of security, which is important for wellbeing and sense of purpose. This is particularly important at the moment, with many cancelled clubs, groups and day centres being closed.
Don't take on too much on your own, you still have your own life and work to juggle. Reach out to other family members to see which responsibilities they can take on to share the load. This can be difficult to negotiate depending on their own responsibilities, and there may also be restrictions of travel and location, so although not everyone will be able to offer practical help but there is always the phone and online shopping!
Be realistic about what can be done; try reaching out to charities and organisations for help. Even arranging for a volunteer to make a regular phone call can help to bring something to look forward to, particularly if your loved one lives alone.
Although many social groups may have been cancelled due to COVID-19, there has actually been a stronger sense of community spirit in many areas - communities have pulled together and neighbours are looking out for each other more. Use this to your advantage - reach out to their neighbours, especially if any of them are also living alone - it could be a perfect opportunity to build a network of support.
Try to spot when something isn't quite right, and ask yourself questions like the ones below, so that little issues don't turn into bigger problems:
Is the house cold? The worry of big bills can sometimes be the reason behind putting the heating on less. If money is a concern, suggest just heating the rooms they spend most of their time in, for example their lounge and bedroom. Also try suggesting activities to keep their circulation going, which will help them to feel less cold. Encouraging them to go for walks if they are physically able, or take part in less strenuous chair exercises if not.
Are they eating well? Is there plenty of food in their cupboard and fridge? Keep them stocked up with easy-to-prepare meals for when they are by themselves, for example tins of soup, ready meals, or meals you have prepared that they can heat up themselves. Try to keep an eye on what they have - make sure they are eating enough and that it's a balanced diet.
Has your parent lost interest in food or cooking? If you can't take them shopping, you can help facilitate an online supermarket order or councils and other local organisations may provide meals delivered to their home, if they are eligible - check here to find out.
Do they have functional mobility? Are there any living aids that could help your parent/s look after themselves more independently? For a parent who has started to struggle to walk or stand for any length of time, a zimmer frame, rollator or walking stick can make a big difference to their sense of independence, confidence and ability to get around. Equipment around the house such as grab rails, a walk-in bath or a stair lift, can help your elderly parents to remain happily at home when otherwise they may have struggled.
Coping with the changes when caring for elderly parents can be difficult for families. If you have been offering informal care or support for a while, but are finding it increasingly challenging, you may need to consider and prepare for some additional professional care and support to take the pressure off you.
Considering a care provider can be a difficult mental shift to come to terms with, but it's just formalising what has already been taking place, and should be something that benefits everybody involved. Transitions can be tricky, and everybody will need some time to get used to the new normal.
Equally, remember to look after yourself - you cannot be there for everyone all the time. Accept help where it is offered and remember you are doing your best.