Leaving Hibernation: How Professional Caregivers Can Help Seniors Mitigate Risk of Spring Activities
You probably don’t think of spring as a risky season — unless you’re a caregiver.
No more icy sidewalks or frigid temperatures. The birds are singing; the sun is shining. But getting outside is still challenging for your father-in-law with balance issues, for your grandmother with dementia who wanders, or for your mom who’s recovering from an extended illness this winter.
This spring, don’t let the risks outweigh the rewards of the season’s activities. Follow these tips for simple, enjoyable ways to take advantage of the warmer weather.
1. Overcome the Fear
When an older adult is faced with constant losses — loss of hearing, loss of a driver’s license, or loss of a spouse, partner, or friend — isolation is often the solution. She turns down a lunch date with friends because she’s afraid she won’t hear their conversation in the noisy cafe. He stays home because he doesn't know how to arrange transportation, or hates asking for a ride. After a bad fall last spring, she's afraid to walk the rocky path to her country mailbox. Falling has social ramifications (links to new social fallout article).
These are just a few of the reasons an older loved one may opt for the indoors long after spring shows up. Be sensitive to their anxieties and concerns. Try to get to the root of their fears about leaving home so you can meet their needs: there may be a simple solution, like a home modification, or a home care companion who provides transportation. You may also want to consider your fears about your loved one navigating the outdoors alone and start thinking about how a home care companion can help.
2. Don’t Garden Alone
Every year, one in every four adults over the age of 65 falls, says the National Council on Aging. And while broken bones, surgery and impaired mobility are not desirable outcomes, a sedentary lifestyle indoors isn’t the answer. In fact, the “use it or lose it” rule applies: Staying physically active and engaged is better for maintaining and improving strength and balance than pure avoidance.
But when an older adult falls and is alone, there can be severe consequences. If your mother loves gardening, or your father enjoys tinkering in the garage, don't make these areas off limits. Consider bringing in a home care companion who can either work beside Mom or Dad or check in to make sure they're safe.
3. Watch Your Step
‘Tis the season for spring cleaning, and if your parent or older relative’s home is full of cluttered corners and stockpiled spaces, get to work. Evaluate the safety of outdoor areas too, and ensure clear pathways and level ground, as uneven walkways are a fall risk for those with vision or gait challenges.
Non-skid mats may be helpful on a smooth porch or patio, where they may spend lots of time now that it's getting warm outside. Other home modifications, like a wheelchair ramp, may be a worthwhile investment for a parent who loves the outdoors but now uses a wheelchair. From the simple to the more involved, consider accommodations that will allow your loved one to still get outside and do the spring things he or she likes, but in a safe manner. A home care provider may be able to work with you on making the house (indoors and outdoors) easier to navigate and to be a steady arm for a neighborhood stroll or a garden walk.
4. Stay Hydrated
It’s already spring, so summer’s heat and humidity are right around the corner. Summer poses significant dehydration risks for older adults, but any time spent in the sun and warmth should be balanced by proper hydration. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends all older adults drink a glass of water before going outside.
Drinking enough water on a daily basis offers many other health benefits besides avoiding the harmful effects of dehydration. A home care provider may be able to support this goal by providing reminders and numerous opportunities throughout the day for getting enough liquids (or if your loved one needs thickened liquids for easier swallowing/less choking).
5. Expand the Team
If your primary concern about your senior loved one engaging in spring activities is connected to living alone, start by consulting with a home care provider to discuss the options and brainstorm ways a professional caregiver can be there when you cannot. Sometimes it takes a "caregiving village" to provide adequate support for your senior loved one.
6. Easy Outdoor Activity Ideas for Seniors
Once you’ve addressed these areas, go ahead and get outside! Consider these creative ways for keeping Mom or Dad active this spring, remembering to make adjustments as needed:
This well-loved pastime isn’t limited to digging in the dirt or turning over soil. If your Mom loved gardening but can’t get on her hands and knees, take her to a nursery to choose plants that can be maintained indoors, or to choose low-maintenance favorites someone else can plant outside (but that she can still nurture and love).
- Arts & Crafts
Set up an easel and canvas on the porch for painting, or a small table for knitting/crocheting supplies. Get floral-themed adult coloring books and colored pencils that can be used indoors and out. A digital camera to rekindle a photography hobby Keep it simple: the benefits of the creative arts are too valuable to pass up!
- Outdoor Yoga
The gentle stretching and deep breathing of yoga are good for mind, body, and soul. Adapt the routine to make sure Mom or Dad is safe and comfortable in the activity. Find easy tutorials and routines on YouTube, like these gentle senior yoga suggestions from Sixty & Me .
The leisurely pace of fishing means you can absorb the sun, sights, and sounds of nature without too much physical exertion.
- Mini Golf
This classic American favorite is a great way to spend a spring afternoon provided the weather isn’t too hot or the course too crowded. Call ahead to find out what hours are best for hitting the green without worries about being rushed.
A trip to a local park or playground can provide hours of people- or bird-watching, duck-feeding, gentle strolls or brisk walks, and more. Bring games like cards or checkers to play at a picnic table — or just enjoy the change of scenery.
If your loved one needs more support for these activities than you can give, don't give up on the activities. Find a partner you can trust: a professional caregiver can serve as a companion, a strong arm for someone at risk of falling, a second opinion, a second set of hands or merely support to complement the caregiving you faithfully provide.
For more senior safety information when it gets warm, click here.