4 Tips on How to Discuss Quality of Life with the Older Adults in your Life

Guest Post Author: Chris Golen| thecommonsinlincoln.com

Discussing Quality of Life with Your Aging Parents

Living a long, happy and healthy life is something we desire, not only for ourselves but for our loved ones, as well. Indeed, as we grow older, quality of life issues become even more important. As executive director for a Boston-area senior living community, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of creating an environment for seniors where they can thrive as part of a community of neighbors, with the support they need.

What exactly is quality of life?  It’s a hard concept to describe, and answers differ from person to person. Understanding how your parents define quality of life is important to ensuring their long-term happiness and health. Maybe it is the opportunity to volunteer with a local non-profit, stay active in their church, participate in a much-beloved hobby, or spend time with family and friends on a regular basis.

Scientifically, quality of life has been defined by three key indicators: overall view of life, relationship to self, and relationship to partners or friends.

Here are some recommendations to help identify how your parent defines quality of life and areas for improvement.

Overall View of Life

Ensuring your parents maintain a positive view on life is crucial to their happiness. This extends to peace of mind in their finances and confidence they have the care they need in the event their health changes.

It’s important to note that while a senior living community can provide the support your parents’ need, these communities are not one size fits all. A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) model allows your parents to plan for the unexpected and enjoy life. CCRCs often offer a life care plan, allowing your parents to mitigate the risk of potential rising costs of health care and protect their assets.

Relationship to Self  

Opportunities to explore interests and focus on health will allow your parents to build self-confidence and enjoy life more fully. As your parent’s age, it can become difficult for them to motivate themselves to stay active, prepare healthy meals and value their physical health. Identifying a community of support may be the right environment. Senior living communities provide daily support, easy to follow fitness routines and delicious, healthy meals.

Health in mind, body, and spirit is the best way to ensure the greatest relationship to self. If your parent feels healthy and strong, they are better able to reach out to the ones they love, build new relationships, and continue to participate in life.

Relationship to Others

Interpersonal relationships will allow your parents to feel supported and part of a community. As we age, building new friendships can be difficult unless there are scheduled activities in place to create opportunities for social engagement.

Residents at senior living communities can become involved socially as they select from daily activities calendars to continue to enjoy the hobbies and experiences they love. Residents enjoy trips to local attractions, on-campus musical performances, opportunities to join or create a club for their hobbies, and lifelong learning with guest lectures.

Where Should You Begin?

It all starts with a conversation. Ask a series of questions to understand what aspects of your parent’s life they find most enjoyable. Questions could include:

  • What activities have you been participating in recently?
  • Are you able to participate in the activities purposeful to you?
  • What are the upsides and downsides of living alone?
  • Are you having any problems maintaining the house?

These questions will not only convey your interest in hearing about their lives, but it will allow you to pick up on major clues that their quality of life could improve with some changes.

If your parents seem lonely, removed, or have difficulty engaging in activities that give them purpose, transitioning to a new living situation, like a senior living community may be the right solution. With support from staff and daily opportunities to interact with others and participate in beloved activities, your parents may experience improvements in their overall view of life.

About the Author

Chris Golen, campus executive director at The Commons in Lincoln in Lincoln, Mass., has dedicated his career to improving the lives of seniors. Golen has made quality of life the top priority at The Commons by identifying a staff dedicated to making life more enjoyable for each resident. As a Continuing Care Retirement Community with a Five-Star Medicare rating in skilled nursing, The Commons offers the highest level of care available. Follow The Commons in Lincoln on Facebook or Twitter.

Investing in the ‘New Normal’: Are Companies Afraid to Admit Caregiving is now a Business Problem?

caregiver-stress

Nancy LeaMond (Executive Vice President & Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, Communities, States and National Affairs at AARP) reports:

[C]aregiving also has long been, and will continue to be, a business and workforce issue. [S]ix in 10 family caregivers are working while more than one in three are working full time. In fact, the average family caregiver is a 49 year old woman who works 35 hours a week and spends 20 hours a week caring for her mother. At the same time, almost 25 percent of family caregivers are Millennials and the average millennial caregiver is working a full time job. All this boils down to one key point-caregiving and work are the ‘New Normal.’ As workers across all generations are facing the issue of caring for loved ones, employers need to respond.

I’m new to the world of cubicles and water fountain chats, but it has been an enlightening experience, to say the least. I work in public health and every day I share a building with hundreds of different people.

In the short few months I have been here, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in conversations held amongst my co-workers. Where aside from the latest news from ‘Dancing with the Stars’ or the upcoming election, are the in-depth and more personal stories of caregiving.

Just this morning, I walked by a woman noticeably upset at the sudden aphasia (A language disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate) her father experienced after a recent stroke. She expressed frustration at her inability to understand him, sadness that her father was ill, and exhaustion that now on top of preparing her kids for a new school year she would be spending the next few months searching for care facilities.

And last week, in conversation with a coworker who although has a decent living wage is concerned that her parents, who never saved for retirement, will be retiring just as her second daughter starts college. Responsible for paying for both, she half humorously joked that she has come to realize she will never be able to afford to retire.

In both of these cases and the countless others I have encountered, there was a noticeable trend. As they were speaking, a look of disbelief was in their eyes, a shocked tone in their voice, and a declarative “I don’t know how I’m going to do it” at the end of each story.

‘The New Normal’

The deeply personal stories of caregiving are becoming more frequent in the workplace. And for these workers, strain from outside stressors will undoubtedly have an impact on their productivity and performance. 61% of family caregivers are currently employed either full-time or part-time, and since this number will only increase in the coming years, this issue demands the attention of our businesses.

All across the country, advocates for caregivers  report the push for companies to understand and plan for ‘The New Normal.’ And for good reason, without the flexibility and understanding from businesses, caregivers are faced with the decision to leave the workforce altogether to support the needs of the older adult in their life. Early retirement then puts a strain on their ability to afford their future healthcare needs.

Caregiving as a Business Problem

A work/life balance is an eternal human debate, which stirs up more philosophical discussions too deep to touch on here.  However, we have all felt the pressures at some point to gracefully manage the responsibilities of both.

For family caregivers, the luxury of grace is often too far from reality to even daydream. The average family caregiver of an older adult in America is a 49-year-old female. Too young to retire and still raising a family these individuals/parents/workers/caregivers are left to “figure it out” when it comes to balancing between all of their responsibilities.

Nearly seven in ten (68 percent) caregivers report making work accommodations because of caregiving. -Lynn Feinberg and Rita Choula AARP Public Policy Institute

To not invest in such a vast majority of our workforce population is proving to be bad for business. U.S. companies lose billions of dollars a year due to workers adapting their work schedule to manage their caregiving responsibilities. At such high frequency’s the demands of a caregiver no longer can be just the individual’s problem.

And even more than the companies bottom line is the simple fact that caregiving is stressful! Depression and staff burnout are known side effects of overburdened full-time and part-time worker/caregiver. These conditions severely impact staff morale and the physical health of employees and ultimately the quality of work they conduct in the workplace.

What can employers do?

First, is the acceptance from companies that this is a workplace issue. In recognition, companies will find that there is a range of policies and programs that they can adopt to support their workforce better.

Hold a meeting. You may already have a weekly meeting on the calendar take 5 minutes to announce interest in this initiative and possibly even to survey how many of the employees are in fact, caregivers.

Collect and distribute caregiving resources. AARP is a national leader in advocating for Caregivers. Their program ReAct is an online resource designed for the workplace and offers employers with best practices to support their workforce and maintain productivity.

Start a workgroup. Opportunities for employees to meet with their co-workers and discuss shared experiences can do wonders for the mental health of your employees. Although this meeting could be held before or after business hours holding the meeting during office hours ensures that all employees can attend if they want to.

Consider Telework and compensatory time. The typical 9-5 work day is confining and offers little opportunity to schedule medical appointments for our loved ones where we wouldn’t have to take off work. Teleworking and Comp time provide flexibility to the work week and allow employees to schedule appointments while maintaining productivity.

Investing in our staff creates a more friendly and productive workforce. There are a staggering amount of caregivers with full-time and part-time jobs and the number will only increase over the next few years. Employers have an opportunity to not only foster a healthy work environment within their company but,  also to provide a bit more quality of life for their employees and in turn the older adults that depend on them every day.

How can we plan for the future? Designing for Older Adults, Livable Communities, and Aging in Place.

Picture5

The other day as I was out shopping a woman fell just outside of a department store. The step out front of the store was barely painted, and the store did very little to come to her aid. In conversation with an employee, she admitted that this isn’t the first time an older adult fell outside of their store, on the same step, and that they often drive away without seeking medical attention.

As for the woman, numerous passerby came to her aid, but she was noticeably (and rightfully) in a bit of shock from the event and although numerous attempts were made to have her seek help she ultimately got into her car and drove away.

Neglecting to incorporate age-friendly design can have a domino effect on the life of our older adults. 

Still, days later, I can’t help but think how this situation could have been avoided.

If we created our public spaces with the older adults needs in mind, this woman could have gone home only to worry about the beautiful blouse she neglected to buy. Instead, her independence was called into question as she stood there alone surrounded by so many strangers she murmured, “I will call my children to help.”

Falls have an emotionally scarring impact on all of us. After a tumble, we become more careful and timid while walking or during our regular routines. Although I can’t speak for this women, it is feasible that she will avoid shopping at this store…not for lack of interest in the products but rather out of fear she could fall again.

And let’s face it, falling as an older adult is much different than falling at any other age.

Yes, injuries can be much more severe and recovery time can be much longer but maybe even worse than the physical injuries themselves is the sudden ever cautious and watchful eyes of our loved ones. After a fall, statements like “be careful” when mentioning going out to the store, or, “Are you sure? Why don’t you let me do that for you instead” become a part of each conversation.

Age-friendly designs in the community 

Efficiently designing for older adults requires design thinking because it is crucial that thinking, empathy, and emotion are incorporated into the design. An efficient design will allow an older adult to continue to age independently and make them feel safe and secure in their surroundings.

Making the transition to an age-friendly community can be a process. However, there are relatively small-scale design features a community can implement to get the innovation process started. In the figures below, there are photographs of how small design fixes can offer big improvements.

Sidewalk Ramps

The first picture below depicts a sidewalk ramp slightly elevated from the street. The slight elevation creates a physical constraint for someone in a wheelchair or walking with a walker. As ramps allow us to regain access to the sidewalk, it becomes essential that bumps are removed so that wheelchairs and walkers can move smoothly back onto the sidewalk.

Picture1

The next picture demonstrates a level ramp between street and sidewalk.  A smooth ramp provides users with much easier accessibility to the sidewalk and will allow someone to move quickly out of the busy street.

Picture2
Creating an Age-friendly sidewalk ramp

Crosswalks 

The picture below shows a faded crosswalk at a busy intersection. The crosswalk is barely visible to drivers and pedestrians alike. A crosswalk is a symbol for the driver to slow down and to allow pedestrians to cross; however, if it is faded and indistinguishable to a driver, it no longer demonstrates a relationship between pedestrians crossing and need to slow down.

Picture3

Older adults depend on crosswalks to know when and where they can safely cross the street. Faded walks not only confuse drivers but can also be difficult for seniors attempting to pass.

The picture below, however, is good for both pedestrian and driver. The visible lines allow both parties to distinguish the space as a crosswalk, which provides feedback to the driver to slow down for the pedestrians who are crossing. And the best part is, it only takes a little paint!

Picture4
Creating an Age-friendly Crosswalk

 

When we create homes and communities with the older adult in mind, we are simulating an experience for all community members to not only be conscious of the needs of the older adult but also to show that with just a few adjustments, older adults can continue to live independently and contribute to their neighborhoods.

Image Sources:
International Federation on Aging Global Communities. (2013, April). Retrieved August 2016, from http://www.ifa-fiv.org/enews/april-2013/
Brookline Community Aging Network. (n.d.). Brookline Can. Retrieved August 6, 2016, from Pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and crossings: http://www.brooklinecan.org/livable_community.html

 

 

 

In an era of isolation, is aging in place a risk to our health? The key to prevention is through socialization.

Women Wearing Colorful Bathing Caps
Women Wearing Colorful Bathing Caps — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Why we need to incorporate the community into our definition of aging in place.

So much of our lives involve being with or being around other people.   Almost all of us will engage with others on a daily basis whether it is with our families, our friends, or our community.  Socializing becomes almost second nature, and often we don’t have to think about it or plan for it, we are just able.

But what happens when it’s no longer just as simple as hopping in the car and going? When once simple tasks become obstacles? It may not be until our body begins to change that we even notice how many steps we have to go up and down just to get out our front door. Or how cumbersome and tiring are going to the grocery store and carrying all of those bags can be.

We live in an active and yet independent society.  We are engaged as long as we initiate, and are independent as long as we can actively participate. And it isn’t until we are no longer able to go to the grocery store or drive over to a friend’s house that we may even realize how vulnerable we all really can be.

We all feel the need to be apart of the community, which is why it is so important that we incorporate the community into our definition of aging in place. We want to live in our homes even as we are no longer able to independently to do so by ourselves. We may have in-home care providers to talk to while they provide care, but we are all more than just a medical routine. Just as accessible as in-home care has become means there is a need to make socializing just as available to those who can no longer go out and actively pursue it themselves.

Older adults living alone at home are at the greatest risk of social isolation

Socializing as a primary need for seniors is not a new concept. Long-term care facilities have incorporated social wellbeing in residents care for years. And for a good reason!  Isolation has several known negative impacts on both health and cognitive functions and will even increase our risk of mortality.

The Campaign to end loneliness reports:

Loneliness and physical health

  • The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality exceeds the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
  • Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure (Hawkley et al., 2010)
  • Lonely individuals are also at higher risk of the onset of disability (Lund et al., 2010)

Loneliness and mental health

  • Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline (James et al., 2011)
  • One study concludes lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia (Holwerda et al., 2012)
  • Lonely individuals are more prone to depression (Cacioppo et al., 2006) (Green et al., 1992)
  • Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age (O’Connell et al., 2004)

Such severe consequences deserve our attention!  We should plan for our future welfare just as we plan for our medical needs.

For more on the dangers of social isolation read: 8 dangers of loneliness social isolation is deadlier than obesity

Planning for socialization as we plan for our future

Establishing routines with friends and family is one of the most important actions we can take in preventing our isolation.  And if we are no longer able to hop in the car and go we can trust that we have a reliable support system by our side.

Staying in our community and joining clubs/social groups are two great ways to start isolation prevention after retirement.  We may have led active lifestyles before retirement, but never are we more able to invest the time and attention to our friends than after retirement. Always a great place to start is at our local senior center.  They will often have calendars of events and a variety of groups to suit any interest.  Or go online!  Websites like www.meetup.com offer a variety of meetup topic groups that pop up all over the country and world!

As previously mentioned, advocates like AARP are working tiredly to bring our communities up to par as age-friendly.  But, we have control in this too, and if we want to age in place, we should do everything in our power to provide ourselves with the happiest and healthiest aging experience.

Stay tuned for more on the vital role our transportation systems play in our ability to age in our home and community!

 

 

Why Is Everyone Talking About Aging In Place?

Leading experts in the field – AARP, the CDC, and the National Institute on Aging – have all told us that 90% of people have expressed the desire to age in place. This high percentage may not be a total surprise. As discussed in a previous post, the comforts of the home are important to all of us. But, what does it mean to age in place? And how does it work for our oldest of adults?

In the coming weeks, I will explore the variety of needs and services available in a community.  Each week will focus on 1 of 4 topics medical care, the interior and affordability of a home, access to transportation, and the importance of recreational activities and community involvement.

But, before we do it is important to discuss what is aging in place and why people are choosing it!

What is Aging in Place?

In a broad sense, it means the ability to stay in our homes as we age.  When we take a deeper look at the needs of older adults, however, this definition must be expanded. For instance, things like access to reliable transportation, the physical layout of our homes, and the ability to easily receive medical care and go to the grocery store must be considered. Access to these types of resources within our community becomes critical to the sustainability to age in place. With this in mind, the meaning of aging in place changes to the ability to stay in both our homes and communities as we age.

And, we aren’t in this alone!

Thankfully, organizations like AARP have already started the process of raising awareness to local and state governments to plan and invest in the infrastructure that would promote an age-friendly community. And as they move the effort forward on a policy level there are still things that we can and should do to ensure our own ability to stay in our homes and communities.

Why Choose to Age in Place?

The Unwanted Mess and Stress of Moving

There are so many things that can change as we age and sometimes these changes can happen all at once.  Adding a big move to the mix can be both stressful and unwelcomed.

Save that Hard Earned Cash

Long term care facilities aren’t cheap! The entrance fee alone can be the price of a home.  Budgeting for services on a needs base may be a more economically friendly way for consumers!

Savor the Memories

Arguably, we spend a lifetime in our homes.  There we can be surrounded by all of the wonderful memories we have collected over the years.

It’s Familiar and Friendly

Not only do we already know the layout of our homes like the back of our hands, but we also probably know many of our neighbors! Who better to call when we are in a grind then our next door neighbors.

Stay tuned next week as we continue the conversation on Aging in Place by focusing on access to in-home care!

Are you aging in place?

I would love to hear your ideas on how you are already aging in place or how you plan to do so in the future!