Coping With Housebound Elderly Family Members

My grandma turned 85 on Monday. She’s lived alone in a bungalow since my grandfather pass away twenty years ago. Around the same time she was diagnosed with Osteoporosis (a disease of bones that leads to an increased risk of fracture). Unfortunately, this has led to her having steadily decreasing mobility from using a walking stick, Zimmer frame and then a wheelchair.

She has no official carer, my Aunties and Mother take this in turns and as such we have all seen first hand the considerations that need to be made in order to improve her quality of life. These small changes are the inspiration for these top ten tips for caring for your family as they become older and more housebound:

  1. Remember that they are always in the house. When you aren’t there sitting round the kitchen table with them as they can’t get to the lounge easily, they will be. When you’re out for a walk, they’re sitting there at the table. When you’re at work, there still there. When you’re out having fun... you get the picture. Therefore make sure that the surroundings where they spend most of their time are as comfortable as possible (including the chair they sit on the most), the decor etc. It’s also worth considering whether they can easily reach everything they need or whether that biscuit tin needs a new home.
  2. Get outside. No matter whether you or they want to or not, take them outside. Even if it’s just to the garden for fifteen minutes (weather dependant obviously). Remember that they probably won’t have been outside of their home for days. I know how stir crazy I can get if I do that so it’s important that they get some fresh air!
  3. Entertainment. Ensure that they have enough entertainment to get them through the times when they are alone. If they are anything like my grandma, a trip to the shops isn’t possible or if it is, it becomes a day trip full of drama. In short, improve their life by making sure that they get a paper delivered daily, have adequate magazine subscriptions and an appropriate TV.
  4. Technology. As people become older, they can become more technologically out of touch. So make sure that the electronic items that they have in their home are as simple to use as possible. They do not need the latest in home cinema if they can’t work out how to turn it on. The remote controller is the most important part. It needs a simple layout and large buttons to make them easy to press!
  5. Prepare for an emergency. As you won’t be there all of the time there is a possibility of a fall or another type of accident. Make sure that they have a charged mobile telephone in their pocket at all times (it doesn’t have to be on all of the time). This way, if they have a fall and can’t move, they can still contact the outside world if necessary. Note – make sure the mobile is as simple as possible to use with the biggest buttons and make sure they understand how to use it!
  6. Home improvements. As my grandma has got older and her mobility has decreased, her bungalow has had to be adapted. For instance, when she started to use a zimmer frame and couldn’t bend down anymore we bought her a grabber or handy reacher so that she didn’t need to move as much. When she got a wheelchair, a ramp was required to get the wheelchair over the door frame to the front and back door. This didn’t cost much but meant she could get out the house again which was massive for her!
  7. Be prepared to listen. To you, visiting them may not be the most exciting thing in the world but to them it can be the event of the day, if not the week! As such listen to everything they have to say intently even if it is around what they had for breakfast and then what their dinner plans are. Remember that it’s all they may have to talk about matter how trivial it may seem - you’re there to give them some much needed social interaction amongst other things.
  8. Share the visits equally if possible across the family. It can be tiring if you are the only family member making the visits so discuss it between you, draw up a rota and stick to it!

Thanks to Mark Priest for this guest article.

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