The creeping prevalence of aging societies isn’t just a challenge for national governments, policymakers, and healthcare providers to solve. It affects everyone who has, or will have, an elder family member or loved one in their lives—and everyone lucky enough to grow old themselves.
Remaining in good health as an older adult requires much more than what medication and treatment alone have to offer. Below are ten pieces of advice, and some accompanying resources, for those who want their loved ones to age as comfortably, independently, and vibrantly as possible.
1. Keep care at home if possible. Try to find care providers who are willing to provide care for your loved one outside a hospital setting and in the home. For some care providers this may mean home visits, for others it could mean telehealth appointments.
Resources: AARP offers plenty of resources for older adults and their loved ones who are seeking home care options. Check out their caregiving checklists for home safety and choosing an in home care agency. You can find a full listing of AARP caregiving checklists here.
2. Coordinate your care. Try to coordinate services among all those providing care for your loved one—both formal and informal. This means everyone from the primary care physician to the person who may come in once a week to clean the house.
Resources: Resources for Integrated Care offers a number of webinars on care coordination for older adults. Also helpful is the issue brief on care coordination published by the Eldercare Workforce Alliance last year, which summarizes emerging challenges and opportunities for coordinating elder care services.
3. Make care regimens person-centered. Encourage your loved one to make their own decisions about the type of care they receive and when and where they would like to receive it.
Resources: Once you know more about what your loved one wants and needs, use the Community Resource Finder to learn more about what resources are available to you nearby.
4. Enable social inclusion. Create opportunities for your loved one to play an active role in your family and in your community. Isolation can be a major cause of emotional distress for older people.
Resources: This article, penned recently for US News and World Report, features opportunities for seniors to continue working socially fulfilling jobs beyond retirement. Vive Health has also compiled a list of 110 activities for engaging older adults.
5. Stay up to date on the latest technology. Keep abreast of new technologies that can improve every aspect of care your loved one receives. These may be as simple as FaceTime appointments with your doctor, or as advanced as safety monitoring systems connected to a coordinated care network.
Resources: Read Paying for Senior Care’s Wiki style article on home care technology. SeniorLiving.org has also published a deep dive into “Technology for Seniors and the Elderly.” For specific examples of up and coming elder care technologies, check out Comfort Keeper’s favorites from CES 2019.
6. Investigate your insurance options. Explore long term care insurance options in detail and find the one that is right for your situation.
Resources: The National Institute on Aging has compiled a comprehensive guide to paying for long term care that includes a cost of care calculator. More guidance is available at SeniorLiving.org, where their yearly list of best long term care providers can also be found.
7. Take care of the caregivers. Recognize the challenges inherent in caring for a loved one in need and make use of any resources available to you in these efforts. This may include online support networks, opportunities to spend time away from your loved one, or rejuvenatory activities to help relieve stress and tension.
8. Learn and practice mindful communication. Don’t be afraid to have what can be a tough conversation about end of life care with your loved one. Make use of the tools and resources available online to talk with your loved one about the kind of treatment they receive and where they would like to receive it.
Resources: Browse the toolkits created by The Conversation Project, an initiative “dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.”
9. Educate yourself. Try to keep up to date with the latest innovations in elder care and best practices in long term care.
Resources: Explore the list of educational resources for older adults and their caregivers collated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. For best practices, consult the intervention summaries—complete with information that “can be readily disseminated and replicated at the community level”—published by the Administration for Community Living. The Aging Life Care Association offers consumer resources organized by category, as does the National Council on Aging.
The new Best Practice Caregiving database, designed specifically for those who take care of individuals living with dementia, vets and provides comprehensive information on active dementia programs.
10. Create a safe environment. Make sure the environment in which your loved one lives encourages their independence and autonomy, mitigates and risk of injury or harm, and feels like a personalized home environment.