Older adults need a whole-person approach to well-being because living well is more than whether the bathroom has a grab bar or if they’ve taken medication on time.
You’ve seen your tenth article on “aging in place” for older adults and are struck, once again, how narrowly the writer has defined such an important notion. It’s obvious to you, “aging in place” is really so much more than removing loose rugs and installing grab-bars.
The reasons people want to “age in place” vary, but the main one is to stay where they have built memories, lives and familiar comforts. People get a sense of well-being from home.
Well-being is a balance between mind, body, and spirit, and having balance helps us thrive. Good news: it’s not necessary to move to a spa-like community in New Mexico to establish balance. As caregivers, we want our loved ones to live well, despite any chronic conditions they might have, and to continue living as independently as possible, in the location of their choice.
Well-being comes from:
- Eating well
- Moving the body
- Staying connected to others
- Staying mentally engaged
- Managing stress and having purpose in life
These 5 elements are a common sense way to live and to enhance a loved one’s well-being.
Eating well includes eating good food and means much more. For maximum benefit, serve a variety of fresh, unprocessed food. A can of tomato soup is not the best choice, but a salad of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers is a good one. Limiting consumption of highly processed and refined foods, like cookies and packaged sauces is good advice for everyone.
Dining at home is a big component of eating well, especially when in company of those you like or love. It reinforces connections with friends and family and makes meals pleasurable. When caring for a person with limited mobility, inviting people to share simple meals at home can be a key time to connect with others from the outside world. Home cooking is one of the best ways to eat better quality food with less salt and sugar.
Drink mostly water. Be sensible about consuming alcohol and sweetened beverages, because of their high calorie, low nutrient content.
Movement helps with fall risk and body function. Every little bit of movement helps to maintain bone density and muscle strength, which in turn reduces fall risk. Start small and build activity into every day living—even a trip around the kitchen island and a little chair yoga is better than nothing. It’s a virtuous cycle, the more you move, the better you feel, and the more you want to move. Movement helps our bodies digest food, clear toxins, stay limber, sleep better and reduces stress.
Connection with others feeds both mind and spirt. Humans crave connection with other humans. Sharing challenges and successes, histories and plans with each other makes our brains work to process information and formulate responses. This hard work gives us good feedback, helps us refine ideas and better understand the world. Caregivers, whether family or professional, bring a critical personal connection that can’t be had through a television or computer.
Engage your loved one’s mind—you’ll both be sharper. Incorporate mental exercise in daily activities with your loved one. Use math in the grocery store, track a sports team all season, or play Scrabble. Practice memory techniques to remember lists, people’s names, or where you’ve put something. Dr. Gary Small, of UCLA’s Longevity Center, recommends Look, Snap, Connect. (From Alzheimer’s Prevention Program, p. 54-56)
Look: Focus your attention on what you want to recall.
Snap: Create a mental image of the info you want to learn.
Connect: Establish a visual association to link the images for later recall.
Try this with word pairs: As you read the words, imagine a vivid picture for each, then snap them together, such as a neon pink flip-flop stuck inside a blue plastic cup (first pair) and a Siamese cat riding a bicycle (second pair).
Flip-flop – cup
Cat – bicycle
If you have a string of words, names, or a grocery list, create your images and snap them together with a story about them. Using the words above, one option is: The neon pink flip-flop suddenly sprang out of the blue plastic cup, startled the Siamese cat riding the kiddie bike so much that he fell off.
Having purpose keeps us going, especially when things are hard. Football coach Lou Holtz said we all need “Something to do, someone to love, something to hope for, and something to believe in.” Find daily chores your loved one can still do. If volunteering is too difficult, ask your loved one to teach you something, such as a Poker or how to knit. Help them transfer wisdom to future generations by writing down advice to their grandchildren. Create a book of their life story and find photographs to illustrate it.
Stress can make the easy difficult and the hard seem impossible. Learn meditation together to help you both face your daily challenges with calm.
Aging is what we all do, no matter where we are living. “Aging in place,” is creating the comforting feelings of home by finding positive ways to make the most of daily life and supporting well-being. No one does this perfectly. Aim for doing the best you can.
Pssst! Still need grab bars? Here’s a useful checklist of modifications to make home more comfortable and safe: http://www.nahb.org/en/learn/designations/certified-aging-in-place-specialist/related-resources/aging-in-place-remodeling-checklist.aspx.