By: Jane Freedman
Not medically reviewed by Dr. Erin Stair
In many ways, the current restrictions on our lives have hit seniors the hardest. While everyone else is busy working away, hoping that the pandemic will soon come to a close, those who’ve retired are wondering how they should fill their time.
Under normal circumstances, they would be traveling the world and arranging meetups with their friends. But, of course, that’s a challenge right now.
These events have brought up an interesting question: how can we help the seniors in our lives live with dignity as they get older?
This question is a vexing one. But we must answer it. If we don’t, then we too will face issues once we reach senior age.
Respect Their Choices
When dealing with seniors, we can sometimes assume that we know best. We think that our ideas about how they should live are correct.
However, a lot of this perspective comes from our own biases. We believe, for whatever reason, that we understand how to live better than they do. And that can lead to trouble.
For instance, suppose that you want a senior to start eating more healthily to protect their heart from disease. Rationally speaking, you’re probably right – eating well can prevent heart disease. But from the perspective of the senior, it might seem like a silly aim. After all, they want to enjoy themselves in their retirement. They don’t want to be counting calories.
Respecting their choices can actually help you form better relationships with them. When they are confident that you see their perspective, they’ll naturally warm to you. And that can actually help you make lifestyle modifications.
Take Your Time
Seniors often have diminished cognitive capacities, especially those living with dementia. It’s important, therefore, to be patient when dealing with them. Taking the time to listen and gradually helping them can put them on the road to recovery.
Don’t underestimate the power of gentle attention and love. Even a senior with cognitive impairment will understand basic kindness, such as being willing to explain things over and over again.
Take Them On Outings
Seniors have been cooped up in their homes for the better part of a year now. And that’s not a good thing. People should be able to get out into nature to enjoy the world whenever they like. It’s natural.
Failing to explore the great outdoors can actually have profound effects on well-being. Seniors who feel trapped in their homes are much more likely to feel depressed and lonely. And both of these mental states are associated with worse health outcomes and shorter lifespans.
Where possible, try to get seniors out of the house. If necessary, form a bubble with them and go to wide-open spaces where the risk of infection is lowest.
Improve Their Safety
It can be challenging for younger people to fully appreciate the vulnerability of being old. But it is important to recognize that a lot of seniors live in a state of fear, especially if they are losing some of their capacities.
Organizations, such as the Catholic Care Center, recognize this issue. They recommend ensuring that seniors have a group of supportive people around them at all times, whether they are at home or in a caring environment. Older people need to feel confident that people are around to help them and provide assistance where necessary.
Give Them Space
Older people also need as much space as possible to maintain their dignity. However, they can’t always get it, especially if they have personal care needs.
For carers, it’s a fine balancing act. On the one hand, you want seniors to have independence. And, on the other, you want to make sure that they continue living a high quality of life.
For some seniors, getting dressed or washed, for instance, can be a challenge. It’s hard to know the point at which you should offer assistance. However, it should be available when necessary to prevent distress.
Offer Your Support
Many seniors struggle to adjust to their condition. They remember a time when they were youthful and energetic. But thanks to the aging process, they can no longer access that world. Instead, they’re trapped in a very different kind of body.
In this situation, it’s vital to be supportive. Aging has a very real physical component that can make life difficult, both cognitively and physically.
When in conversations with older people, try to keep it positive. Once despair creeps in, it can affect their wellness and leave them feeling depressed. Being encouraging and discussing the brighter side of life can make all the difference.