Preparing for aging can be a difficult topic. No one likes to consider the bumps they might face down the road. However, putting a plan together for the future helps make sure you remain active and independent when you get there. It was something my mother and I found out because of an accident and surprise diagnosis.
“Hey Mom, how are you?”
“I’ve had a bit of a fall and I can’t move very well,” she said.
I was thousands of miles away, busy on a project, but my mind suddenly stopped dead.
“What happened? What do you mean you can’t move very well? Have you been to the hospital?”
It had all happened so suddenly. My mom has been at a friend’s house for a party. She was standing near the edge of the deck when the lady in front of her slipped. She grabbed my mom to try and stop herself, but instead ended up pushing her over the edge. It was only a 6-foot drop. However, that was all it took. We found later she had osteopenia, which weakens the bones. As a result, the short fall was enough to break one of her vertebrae.
It caught us by surprise
My mother was already doing plenty to ensure she stayed healthy in her later years. She was eating well, exercising with her dog, and getting regular check-ups, but none of it prepared us for the accident.
As I flew home to care for her, I began reading up on ways to help her cope. Neither of us had been ready for the challenge ahead, but I was determined to make up for lost time. I needed to help her adapt while also making sure she remained in control of her life.
Preparing for aging: the essentials
What I discovered was there are six key things to consider when preparing for aging.
1. Prepping the home
Homes can present unexpected hazards. In my mother’s case, the stairs were steep and narrow, without room for a chairlift. Her bathroom had an easy access shower, but the kitchen was cluttered with too many items in hard to reach places. I had to rearrange everything to make sure the things she used regularly were easy to reach. She had various freezers and didn’t want to sell them, so I made sure they were placed inside. That way during winter, she wouldn’t have to walk out into the wind, rain, and cold. Meanwhile, I told her we would have to review her house every year, so we could make any changes she needed to stay safe.
2. Preventing falls
Falls can be dangerous for older people. They can often cause fractures that can lead to disability, chronic health problems, or worse. Safety precautions are important, but so is exercise. It improves muscle strength, stability, and balance, so you can respond quicker to danger.
I did all I could to prevent my mother from tripping over anything. Rugs, carpets, boxes, little ornaments, and knick knacks had to be repositioned. Ironically, the biggest danger came from her dog, Poppy. She couldn’t walk more than a few steps before little Poppy would run underfoot, threatening to trip her up.
3. The future environment
One day, I sat down with her to discuss the future. We were eating lunch at a local restaurant. She was drinking her favorite gin and tonic, when I asked about the possibility of an Assisted Living Facility (ALF). The answer was a resounding “no.”
She was lucky. Several years previously, she’d moved to a small but close-knit community where everyone knew their neighbors. It was incredible. The whole town was there for her. They checked in, they shared meals, and they shared news. Her neighbor stopped by every day to chat, which had a real, positive impact on her mood. Each week her groceries were delivered and the delivery men would bring everything inside and help her put it away.
Altogether, it meant there was no need to move to an ALF. With everyone’s help, she would be able to return to her normal lifestyle.
4. Thinking ahead to what might be needed
Preparing for aging means thinking about changes coming down the road. My mother had been a passionate cook, but she was entering a new world where she had to think of food as fuel. When planning meals, she had to think about whether they contained the right nutrients to help strengthen her bones and consider whether she would be able to prepare them.
She could still get around in her car. Driving was no problem. But, because of her back problems, getting in and out of the vehicle would be difficult. My wife came up with the idea of a plastic bag, carefully positioned on the driver’s seat. My mother could sit with her legs on the sidewalk and spin around on the slippery surface. Later, when she went out, Mom was embarrassed to find the bag had stuck to the back of her sweater!
And there was still more to discuss.
Home Repair: Mechanical, electrical, plumbing and landscaping needs around the home. Who did she know? Were they easy to reach?
Housecleaning: Could we find some who could meet my mom’s standards?
Financial Tasks: We needed to help her transition to a digital platform that would make it easy for her to manage money and bills.
5. Emergency plans
Who could she call in an emergency? Was there someone who could check in on her daily? What would she do if she fell and couldn’t reach the phone? We invested in a personal alarm system and then set it off by accident, but at least we knew it worked.
We mapped out the emergency numbers in her cell and on her landline. Later, I showed her how to reach people through the internet via voice, video, and text. It took some time, but shortly afterward she started to feel part of the modern world, not let behind.
6. Advance care directives
Advance care directives, such as a living will, durable power of attorney, and a health care proxy, allow you to explain the type of medical care you want if you’re too sick, confused, or injured. We didn’t enjoy the discussion, but with a gin and tonic, she got through it.
Preparing for aging helps you live a fuller life
Today, her ostepenia had developed into osteoporosis. Life has gotten a little harder, but she’s adapting. She is still active and enjoys her independence. It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad the two of us worked out a plan to help her adjust to the changes. Preparing for aging helped her make the most out of life.