Life has changed for your parent. Driving is no longer an option. Maybe Mom uses a walker. Or Dad is sitting in a wheelchair. The loss of independence is upsetting for everyone. While limited mobility can be expected with age, many family caregivers don’t prepare for the sudden onslaught of accommodations required for the immobile parent. Simple activities take much more time and coordination: going to the grocery store; taking regular showers; going up and down the stairs. What used to be routine is now problematic. And as the family caregiver, this new reality comes with tremendous burdens.
Your instinct is to rescue Mom or Dad from a helpless situation. But mobility issues can usher other problems. “Loss of mobility...has profound social, psychological, and physical consequences,” per the Harvard Health Letter article on mobility problems. Your parent’s quality of life may take a nosedive. “If you’re unable to get out then you can’t go shopping, you can’t go out with your friends to eat dinner or go to the movies, and you become dependent on other people to get you places. So you become a recluse, you stay home, you get depressed,” said Dr. Suzanne Salamon, geriatrician and instructor at Harvard Medical School.
Factors Impacting Mobility
Be aware of the conditions that can lead to immobility or worse, becoming bedridden. “The most common risk factors for mobility impairment are older age, low physical activity, obesity, strength or balance impairment and chronic diseases such as diabetes or arthritis,” per the JAMA medical report, Mobility Limitation in the Older Patient: A Clinical Review. Risk factors also include depression, dementia and a recent hospital stay. Meantime, bedridden individuals are at risk for incontinence, skin infections and bed sores. So the caregiver must stay vigilant. Catch the initial symptoms before they worsen.
On the bright side, the medical report came to a positive conclusion: With consistent attention and care, a senior’s mobility issues are treatable. “Addressing functional deficits and environmental barriers with exercise and mobility devices can lead to improved function, safety, and quality of life for patients with mobility limitations.”
Your parent needs dedicated support throughout the day. Keeping up with the multiple aspects of care can rapidly become difficult. As the family caregiver, you risk losing patience and burning out. The sandwich generation feels trapped. Per the Family Caregiver Alliance: "...most caregivers are ill-prepared for their role and provide care with little or no support, yet more than one-third of caregivers continue to provide intense care to others while suffering from poor health themselves." Without reliable support, the family caregiver may suffer physical pains, anxiety and depression. It’s a perfect storm for a mental collapse.
Additionally, dedication to your elderly loved one can inadvertently penalize you. Per the Family Caregiver Alliance: “Long-term caregiving has significant financial consequences for caregivers, particularly for women. Informal caregivers personally lose about $659,139 over a lifetime: $25,494 in Social Security benefits; $67,202 in pension benefits; and $566,443 in forgone wages.” So ultimately, it may be wiser financially to seek outside long-term care.
Dignified Care for the Immobile
Your elderly loved one must adjust to a ‘new normal' with limited mobility. However, the quality of life does not have to suffer drastically. An experienced home care provider can help your loved one through this. For example, Sheila experienced shame and discomfort while recovering from a fall. She used a temporary wheelchair after hip-replacement surgery. But the worst part of the healing process was not having someone to help her shower or go grocery shopping. In these conditions, Sheila didn’t want to see friends or family. She also felt uncomfortable burdening her sister with caregiving duties. Eventually, Sheila did get assistance from home care. With regular showers and shopping trips, she finally felt like herself again.
So consider selecting a reputable home care agency. These trained caregivers have the experience to assist your immobile parent. On a routine basis, the home care provider can serve as the hands and feet for your parent. They will make life much easier with services like bathing, grooming, meal preparation, medication reminders, driving and companionship. Your elderly loved one may feel upset after losing mobility. So it's important to provide social stimulation. A professional caregiver takes the time to interact when you're not there. A friendly conversation may stave off depression.
A trained caregiver also opens up the possibility of ‘aging in place.’ According to an AARP survey, about 90 percent of American seniors wish to live inside their home for as long as possible. On the other hand, without support from home care, an exhausted family caregiver is very likely to make drastic changes. “An influential factor in a caregiver's decision to place an impaired relative in a long-term care facility is the family caregiver's own physical health,” per the Family Caregiver Alliance. Your parent doesn’t want to move. So don’t go down a severe and costly path if you don’t have to.
Fall-Proof the Home
“[L]oss of mobility puts you at greater risk for falling, which often results in a hip fracture,” per the JAMA medical report. “That’s the worst, because within a year, 20 percent of people with hip fractures die from complications. So we try to avoid that at all costs,” said Dr. Salamon.
It’s critical to fall-proof your loved one's home. Extra slip-proof rugs and handlebars inside the shower are two quick adjustments. Moreover, a seasoned home care provider knows how to thoroughly assess and modify the house to prevent falls. Should the worst happen and your senior does fall, the professional caregiver is there to call for emergency help quickly.
Read more on how to keep your elderly loved one safe inside the home here.