Seniors in this country are enjoying longer and healthier lives overall, and this is good news for families! Our views on aging have changed in the last few decades, and we value seeing our senior parents enjoying active and healthy living much longer. However, despite these changes, recent statistics show that a vast majority of Canadians will spend a portion of their lives managing a chronic illness of some type.
Chronic health conditions can include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, respiratory conditions, arthritis, dementia, obesity, and more. Other seniors may have their quality of life altered by a fall or other injury that limits their capabilities unexpectedly. Managing these conditions and helping them to still get the most out of life takes thoughtful planning, support, and information.
How to help seniors live healthier after a diagnosis of a chronic illness:
1. Learn all you can & stay informed
One of the most stressful things about newly diagnosed health issues is not knowing what to expect or what you should be doing to help your aging parent. Encourage them to book time to discuss the diagnosis with their doctor or specialist, and offer to go with them to take notes on all that is discussed. Ask what they can expect, what their options are, and find out if they can recommend support networks or resources for you to learn more on your own.
2. Partner with healthcare providers
A diagnosis of a chronic condition can be the beginning of an ongoing relationship between your parent, their doctor, as well as possibly a specialist or two. Now is the time to consider stepping in to help them advocate for themselves. Ask questions, and be proactive about following up or asking about next steps. Ensure the communication is clear between everyone on their health care team; share information on prescriptions, track how your mom or dad is feeling, and where they are feeling challenged.
3. Encourage healthy habits
While most chronic conditions are by definition long lasting and won’t be cured by adopting healthier habits, many symptoms and complications can be relieved somewhat by adjustments to diet, activity levels, and other habits. If these are recommended, encourage your parent to try them. They may find the added energy and well-being helps manage the stress of their new diagnosis – and if these improvements help reduce symptoms or complications, all the better.
4. Balance energy and fatigue
Encourage your parent to learn what their body needs for rest after a diagnosis, and their best path to increased energy. Good sleep hygiene, stress reduction, and movement during the day can help them sleep better at night. Learning what helps boost energy during the day, and improves rest at night, will help them feel better overall and avoid extensive fatigue.
5. Learn about pain management options
Many chronic conditions bring symptoms that cause issues with mobility, day to day functioning, or cause varying levels of pain. Help your parent speak with their doctor about pain levels, and ask about options so they can try different remedies and find what’s right for them. Reducing pain so they can still enjoy their days can help improve their quality of life overall.
6. Help build a support network
A senior’s support network may include family, their neighbors and their doctor. A diagnosis of a chronic condition can bring new challenges, and more need for support. Ask for resources from their doctor, and others in the community. They may find support via a counselor to talk through the changes in their life, and you may find online or community groups full of advice from others supporting their own aging parents through similar experiences. It is important for all of you to avoid isolation, and to stay open to positive interaction and support.
7. Help them redefine goals
Many people find a diagnosis of a chronic illness just as difficult mentally and emotionally, as it is physically. Why? It can challenge identities, capabilities, and in a moment shift what their lives look like. It can be easy to feel enormously challenged, but it doesn’t have to change their path entirely. Take the time to learn all you can together, and make the accommodations they need to feel well and supported. Then consider what they can still do, and contribute, and how they can still enjoy what is most important in their life. Chances are, there are still many things they can do with some adjustments, so don’t assume all goals have been taken away. It may be time to adjust, or add new ones, but this is an important part of feeling whole and fulfilled.
Why consider private home care?
Learning about options for care that focus on your aging parents lifestyle, and goal of remaining at home for as long as possible is an important step when considering how to handle health changes or unexpected diagnoses as parents age. It is entirely likely that a senior will require assistance and support long before they need to make a full time move to a permanent care residence, if ever with proper daily care.
Exploring what private home care has to offer, is a cost effective option compared to a senior residence, and adding levels of support early, and only where needed, are important ways to help them maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle.
A diagnosis of a chronic condition may change how your mom and dad or senior family member lives their life, but it doesn’t have to change how well they live it. With the right resources and support, they can continue to live a life that makes them happy, as long as possible.
Have questions or feedback on what you just read?
Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to chat with you about supporting your family in aging well, and making plans for them to enjoy safe and healthy senior living.
~ Senior Homecare by Angels Calgary team