Life expectancy in the UK is constantly rising, according to the NHS, and the good news is that the introduction of new technologies, and a greater awareness of disease prevention, means that many of us are now healthier and more active in our older years than previous generations. One effect we’re seeing of this is that formal care – in hospitals, residential homes, and care homes – is declining, while informal care – children caring for their parents at home, for example – is steadily on the rise. It’s estimated that more than 10 million of the over 50 population care for an elderly parent or relative, so it’s important to ensure that information regarding the care of the elderly is easily accessible, simple to understand, and shared with those that need it.
Creating a Care Plan
One of the most important aspects to understand regarding care of the elderly is that the term ‘care’ is relative. It’s an umbrella term, covering any sort of assistance that contributes towards the quality of life of the elderly who may struggle to maintain a happy, healthy lifestyle on their own. Some children may move into their parents home, some carers may undertake personal and intimate care tasks, others may nip out for the groceries once a week. All of these are considered ‘caring’. There’s really no ‘one size fits all’ care plan – it’s not something you can just download from the internet. Creating a care plan should be based not only upon the health and ability of the elderly, but also the ability of the carer, and the preferences of both parties. Carer and patient both need to discuss their own needs, and a care plan – even if simply a verbal plan – should be put in place that ensures the requirements from both sides are met.
The Importance of Visitation
Socialisation amongst the elderly is a common issue. In elderly patients who are in particularly poor health, friends and family members may be advised not to visit because the patient needs their rest. Similarly, amongst the elderly who are relatively independent, friends and family may not feel the need to visit often. However, regardless of whether you’re a live-in carer, or help out sporadically, it’s important to help the elderly maintain some degree of outside contact – to an extent that suits their current level of health. Three quarters of all pensioners who lives alone report feelings of isolation and loneliness according to the Royal Voluntary Service, while an estimated 17 percent would like to see their family members on a more regular basis. Even if you’re a low-level carer, providing practical assistance just once per week, it’s important to be there to meet social requirements, too. Around 20 percent of the elderly are diagnosed with depression – often linked to social isolation in old age.
Encouraging Good Habits
During the later years, it’s unfortunately very common for the elderly to care less about maintaining good habits than they did when they were younger. Sleeping patterns become erratic, for example, but one of the most noticeable changes is in eating habits. Meals may be skipped, and reports suggest that elderly people who live alone following the death of a spouse may make poorer choices in terms of foods, eating fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. During the ageing process, bone and muscle density naturally decreases, along with balance. This means that not only are we more likely to take a little stumble, but that we’re also more likely to experience injury if we do fall. As a carer, it’s important to try and encourage good eating habits, recommending foods (or cooking foods) that could minimise damage to the body. Vitamin A, for example, which is commonly found in root vegetables and salad leaves, can help the body recover from injury quicker, while Vitamin C, which is often found in citrus fruits like oranges, can reduce painful swelling.
Allowing for Independence
Contrary to popular belief, ‘caring’ doesn’t have to mean doing everything for an elderly parent, relative, or friend. Caring can simply mean providing assistance in enabling the elderly to live a more independent life than they would be able to without your help. If you’re providing care, it’s well worth learning more about how you can help the elderly maintain independence, by understanding more about the different equipment and services available, and about mobility companies such as Acorn Stairlifts who can simplify everyday life. Sadly, independence is something that deteriorates with age, often due to reduced mobility and ability, but sometimes due to fear. It’s reported that 32 percent of older people who have had a fall in the past are afraid that they will fall again, and are less inclined to get out and about in case they become injured, or suffer embarrassment. It’s important to understand ways to encourage independence, such as making use of free bus travel in England, or attending local clubs or events.
Unfortunately there is a noticeable lack of accessible homes available for the elderly in the UK, and many elderly people who wish to remain the community must endure the obstacles that come with non-accessible properties, particularly in older houses with slim doorways, tiny hallways, and narrow staircases that were designed at a time when the average person was much smaller. As a carer, one of the most beneficial things you can do for the elderly is to remove as many of these obstacles, or at least minimise their effect. Grab rails can make it easier to bathe or use the toilet, for example, and mobility aids like stairlifts are available with modern features that allow them to tackle the unique obstacles associated with high rise townhouses or external steps, for example.
Taking a Break
Respite care often comes with negative connotations, and it’s a bit of a taboo subject, but whether you decide to take respite or not, it’s important to understand what it is, how it works, and the potential benefits so that you can make an informed and sensible decision as a carer. Some carers see respite as admitting defeat – admitting that they can’t handle the task at hand. However, the truth is that respite isn’t actually about the health and well being of the carer – it’s about the patient. Although you may feel like you’re getting on OK, the patients needs must come first. Interestingly, there’s actually no evidence that respite care assists the carer in any way – there’s ‘no observable improvement’ in the carers well being on average. The elderly, on the other hand, frequently display an ‘improvement in functioning’ – it’s all about a fresh approach and a change of pace, it’s about mixing it up a bit. If you’re interested in respite, considering having a community care assessment to see if you qualify for local authority assistance.
Regular Care Reviews
Carers should remember that a care plan isn’t for life, it’s not set in stone, and the level of care you provide should be amended based upon changing circumstances. Should an elderly patient deteriorate rapidly, for example, or if they have been diagnosed with a degenerative condition such as Parkinson’s Disease which mean that their needs are likely to change significantly over time, care plans should be altered to reflect this. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to provide a greater level of care if you’re uncomfortable in doing so. Informal caring isn’t an ‘all or nothing’ situation, and it’s completely reasonably to provide a level of care you’re comfortable with, and entrust the greater levels of care to professionals. This often happens if the elderly suddenly require help with more personal tasks that could be awkward for friends and family, or which may cause embarrassment for the patient.
Help for Carers
Remember that, as a carer, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there is a great deal of support – both emotional and financial – for carers, most notably from the UK government. The government are willing to help you because you’re helping them – by caring for the elderly at home, you’re helping to keep spaces free in formal care homes and residential homes for those who are in poorer health, require a higher level of care, or for those who don’t have friends or family to assist them in remaining in their own home. If you feel you would benefit from a bit of assistance in performing care tasks and undertaking your duties as a carer, enquire about Carer’s Credit or Carers Allowance which can really make a huge difference to the emotional well being of carers.