For most of us - the thought of hospitalization just doesn’t come up unless we have an illness or need surgery. For our elders, however, life becomes a vulnerable walk across the living room floor - and a fall could land you in the hospital as fast as you can say “fire department”.
For our elders - hospitals have a whole different meaning. It isn’t a planned event - and often - the elder never comes home. If they do return home - something else is true that most families are unaware of; the elder returns in a diminished condition.
Prepare for the worst, plan for the best
Beyond the mandates we should prepare our families about end of life wishes such as palliative care and non-resuscitation orders - we also need to prepare our environment and our daily routine so that the chance for hospitalization is as small as possible.
The five most common pieces of advice for hospital prevention are as follows;
•Follow your doctor’s orders
•Don’t ignore symptoms
•Reduce the risk of falls and accidents
•Maintain a healthy diet with moderate exercise
•Stay active physically and mentally
Following your doctor’s orders
Sometimes our elders refuse to do what the doctor says - and many times it is out of embarrassment. Using a walker or a cane for some is too big a sign of vulnerability and many interpret the need for walking assistance as a sign of decline and loss of value.
The same response comes with a need to use adult Depends, or even a hearing aid. If you are a family member, an elder yourself, or a care provider - note the following warning signs that your loved one is cutting corners or ignoring recommendations at the risk of their own health and safety. Sometimes these behaviors are a signal of an impending dementia.
Don’t ignore symptoms
The fear of going into a hospital can manifest as a need to hide or ignore symptoms. There are tools available to help assess this. Go to PreventSeniorHospitalizations.com for more in-depth coverage of this issue. For most - not following doctor’s orders stems from apathy, denial, or an unwillingness to change patterns of behaviors.
When resistance sets in - it may be time to seek in-home medical supervision. Once it becomes a hardship for a senior to get in and out of a car, you may want to engage an in-home nursing company and seek doctors who will perform home visits.
Having an in home nurse come to assess a medical situation can reduce stress, prevent unnecessary outings (thus preventing further risk) and demonstrate to your loved one that their best interests are what you seek to serve.
Reduce the risk of falls and accidents
Physical decline is a slow, steady process that has signposts along the way. Elders often miss these signs because of how slowly they manifest. Elders are not always aware of when their walk has become a shuffle - which dramatically increases the risk of falling due to tripping over throw rugs, chords and other previously innocuous hazards.
Some signs and risks that increase accident danger include;
•Previous falls or accidents
•A dementia diagnosis of any kind
•Presence of throw rugs and tripping hazards
•Lack of grab bars and baseboard lighting
•Problems with vision or hearing
Maintain a healthy diet
Elders in isolation become depressed. This can lead to eating disorders and a lack of diet management. Problems getting to the grocery store, issues with memory, even simple pain control can adversely affect an elder’s desire to eat properly.
As much as we want our loved one to remain independent - this is simply an unrealistic desire. Old age causes decline. Decline causes health and wellbeing issues along with huge risks.
It is inappropriate for an elder in their late eighties to remain living completely alone unless they have regular help coming in almost daily to check on their well-being and make sure tasks they cannot complete are done for them. This is inevitable. The most stable, life-affirming approach to keeping your elder safe and happy as long as possible - is allowing them to remain in their favorite environment with the necessary supports firmly in place.
Stay active physically and mentally
Old age is the best demonstration of “if you don’t use it you lose it” that there is. Memory games, jokes, current event news, reading, discussing meaningful events and staying physically active are keys to a great aging journey.
To be as healthy as possible and to avoid a dementia diagnosis - we can use the brain/body balance activities of lively discussion while walking to prevent the loss of the cross over brain/body functions. This is one of the best preventions for dementia that doctors have offered so far.
When the brain/body functions begin to slow down - it is necessary to exercise them more in order to keep them useful and fully functioning. Comprehending and discussing current events while walking as briskly as possible is the best way to do this.
If families work together to keep our loved ones stable, active and happy - then there is no reason they can’t age well and need a minimum of in home support along the way.
If you have an elder who is showing signs of trouble - decide who is the best care support person available for your family, and engage a regular support routine right away. Prevention also remains the key to a healthy, happy end of life journey. Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’s love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime