What’s your plan?

Seniors who live independently faced impossible challenges due to the pandemic. How does that change your planning for the future?

By Kim Nonenmacher
Senior Services Manager

Seniors in our community had an exceptionally difficult year. Those living independently faced new challenges. They couldn’t rely on the usual support from visiting family and friends. They were isolated and managed their household tasks unassisted. Seniors with caregivers worried that such essential help was actually putting them at risk. Even with recommended precautions, seniors struggled to access the care they needed while protecting themselves from COVID-19. 

Seniors in Isolation

While isolation and social distancing helped seniors avoid coronavirus, it exposed them to unforeseen dangers. Many seniors faced interruptions to their normal diets, social habits, and even medications. Such isolation also meant that no one was noticing small changes in physical limitations, health concerns, or safety issues. Without early identification of new challenges, seniors couldn’t access the appropriate treatments, therapies, or medication. Their physical and mental health suffered. Mood changes, anxiety, depression, and withdrawal impacted many seniors, especially those who live independently. Caregivers, too, felt helpless and stressed while trying to find adaptations and solutions to an impossible situation. Many of our client families felt that the pandemic exacerbated underlying issues they were long ignoring. Others chose to remove their loved ones from care facilities for fear of the virus. While much of our life might ‘return to normal’ once we reach herd immunity, the pandemic shone a light on many of the unique challenges seniors face, pandemic or not. What can you do for yourself or your loved ones?

What’s Your Plan?

Aging independently is what many seniors hope for in their golden years. There are steps you can take to help yourself or your loved ones live with dignity at any age. Below you’ll find our tips for how to make independent living safer for seniors. When you’re making your plan, don’t forget about the importance of mental health care. If you or a senior you know are struggling, especially those experiencing prolonged isolation, consider speaking with a JFS mental health professional. Call (504) 831-8475 or email jfs@jfsneworleans.org.

5 Ways to Preserve Senior Independence

There are some key areas in which you can encourage senior independence, lower fall risks, and maintain a senior’s ability to remain independent and safe in their own homes.

  1. Understanding cost of care:   Step back and look at your present situation, now for just a moment, reflect on the change a health issue or injury could present.  Will these new needs require additional help in the home? Temporary placement for rehabilitation? Assisted Living? Or Long Term Care solutions?  Each option presents different financial burdens, and having prior knowledge of insurance benefits, policies, and cost of services in your area is your best protection.
  2. Support Physical Health:  Declining physical health has a great impact on maintaining a senior’s desire for independent living.  Identifying health issues early may offer the chance for treatments, therapy, and diet changes to improve their lifestyle. All seniors should have regular MD visits, for new-onset symptoms or chronic illnesses.  Many communities offer Health Screening Fairs; these are particularly helpful for those with diabetes, heart disease, pulmonary issues, or issues with blood pressure.  Both health care prevention and management are equally important.
  3. Mental & Cognitive Health:  Seniors often hide or deny changes related to alertness for fear it will interrupt their current independent living situation. Caregivers, relatives, and friends should take note when a senior suddenly exhibits anxiety with everyday events or activities.  Mood changes and depression may also be a sign that some cognitive changes are happening. Studies show changes in mental alertness may cause them to isolate themselves and communicate less frequently. This withdrawal may cause new health care concerns to go undetected. Do not assume that all behavior changes are related to a mental decline, medications improperly dispensed or missed doses could be at the root of some of these issues.
  4. Home Safety- Risks and Preventions:  Their goal is independent living in their home.  The conditions in the home may require a few small changes to improve safety and prevent injuries from occurring.  Have an open conversation to identify any safety concerns that are present, and explain some options for a better environment. If the goal furthers independence, then resistance may be minimal.  Cluttered areas, loose rugs, extension cords, and poor lighting increase the risk for falls.  Bathroom safety features such as ramps, grab bars, slip-proof adhesives, etc. can easily be obtained and installed. 
  5. Personal Medical Alert System:  Installing a Lifeline Medical Alert System can offer an extra layer of protection for the senior living alone. This system provides 24/7 access to assistance for any emergency.  A personal help button will send a signal to connect with a monitoring center that will summon help on your behalf. The Lifeline system provides many features, fall detection, GPS mobile, or in-home service.  

Independent living with peace of mind, legal and financial matters, who to trust, and how to make transitions; JFS’s Senior Services staff can assist with all of these. If you’re ready to make a plan, get in touch. We’re here to answer your questions and guide you as you make this journey with elderly family members. Call  (504) 831-8475 or email jfs@jfsneworleans.org.

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