Maintaining quality of life

Thanks to advancements in medical care, we are on average living longer than ever before. In theory this should translate into many golden years of blissful and well-earned rest and relaxation. However, if you are taking care of an ageing loved one, you could probably testify that, in practice, many who reach retirement age find that their quality of life is not what it once was. You may even have noticed a role reversal, where you are now “parenting” your parent(s). If you are in this position, you may be wondering what you can do to improve your ageing loved one’s quality of life. We have compiled a few tips that may help you to understand what happens as a person ages – and what you can do to help …

1. Recognise a gradual decline

There are many conditions that can cause a gradual decline as one ages: Alzheimer’s disease, a vitamin B12 deficiency, an underactive thyroid, Parkinson’s disease and depression, to name a few. All of these can affect a person’s quality of life. In order to help your loved one, it is important to investigate the source of decline and take appropriate action. Start by making notes about how the decline manifests itself (loss of appetite, withdrawal, failing memory, etc.) and for how long you’ve been noticing this. Discuss these notes with your loved one’s physician.

2. Watch out for sudden changes

If you pay attention to your loved one’s baseline health and behaviour, you’ll be alert to sudden, and subtle, fluctuations. This is important because sudden changes often point to acute problems such as infections, medication side effects, or even a heart attack or stroke. Inform your loved one’s physician of these changes as soon as possible, as timely treatment can not only enhance quality of life but also save lives.

3. Accessible activity

Physical activity may become more difficult with age but maintaining a good level of fitness is vital for physical as well as mental well-being. Water-aerobics, yoga, gentle walking and swimming are good options. An adapted exercise programme with chair exercises can be implemented for those with limited mobility. Keeping active will improve flexibility, fitness and strength, which may in turn prevent injuries and ailments.

4. Emotions count

Emotional well-being is every bit as important as physical well-being. Feelings such as fear, grief, boredom, embarrassment and sadness can be just as debilitating as disease. Be attuned to your loved one’s emotions and get professional help if necessary.

5. Improve mobility

Physical mobility is a major concern for many ageing persons and lack of mobility directly impacts quality of life. Small adjustments within the home, such as arranging furniture and possessions to be within easy reach, switching to accessible furnishings or sourcing mobility aids for safely and easily navigating the home, can make a big difference. Creating a comfortable environment within the home ensures it is the safe space it should be.

6. Food for thought

Support with cooking can ensure that an elderly person is still able to enjoy home-cooked meals and the health benefits of a balanced diet. This can range from helping with food prep to delivering meals or sharing simple recipes.  

7. Connect the dots

One of the most common mental health struggles faced by elderly people is social isolation. Encouraging your loved one to become involved in community groups or classes can improve their social circle and sense of connectedness. It is important for elderly people to have a network of close friends with whom they can interact on a regular basis.

8. Mind over matter

Maintaining mental agility is crucial for older people, whether it’s through puzzles, mathematical problems or quiz shows. Mentally stimulating activities promote new connections between nerve cells, developing neurological “plasticity” and preventing future cell loss.

Helping to maintain or improve the quality of life of an elderly parent or loved one can be stressful and overwhelming and we take our hat off to you for your efforts. We hope that these tips are helpful. If you are still struggling, consider talking to the staff at Nazareth Care about independent, assisted living or frail care options where the quality of life of residents enjoys the highest priority.

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