Guardian Carers Feature on BBC News London

Top 10 things to help your family member continue to live at home

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We all know that home is the best place to be. Home is where we will want to remain even in old age.

Research shows that older adults want to live as independently as possible. It’s no surprise that the majority of people in their 70s and 80s are so indignant at the idea of moving into care homes.

As a daughter, son or close family member, you can empower your loved one to be as independent as they wish in the comfort of their home. You can help your family member continue to live at home with the help of a home carer. However, there are some things that you can do to make their later years more enjoyable, comfortable and safer at home.

1. Have a community support system

For your family member to continue living at home, they need to be able to access a community support system. This can include family, friends or neighbours. A home carer will certainly be part of this support system also.

Remaining at home does not mean one remains alone, far from it. Family members should feel positive about the knowledge that friends and family will be there when they need them. Of course, if the close family members live far away or friends may long be gone, home carers or companions will be entrusted with making up the support system.

2. Address safety concerns

If you want to help your family member continue to live at home then addressing some essential safety concerns is one of the first things you should be thinking about. Older adults are most at risk of falling, burning or poisoning themselves.

Making home adaptations will prevent the risk of your family member hurting themselves. There are simple and effective ways to prevent falls. Reviewing fire safety should also be top of your list. Ensuring that your family member has easy access to a phone is also important.

Other things to consider are checking that appliances, electrical cords and outlets are in good working condition. Smoke detectors need to be installed unless they haven’t been installed already. Don’t forget to check the batteries twice a year. Installing a carbon monoxide detector is also a great idea that can prevent poisonings.

3. Be prepared for emergencies

There are many unexpected turns in life. Emergencies can arise at any time and it’s essential to have a plan in place for emergencies, especially if your older family member resides at home on their own or with a live-in carer.

Depending on the area your family member lives in, some emergencies you may need to consider are lockdowns, flooding, earthquakes or inability to access medical care. You need to be aware of what your family member’s basic needs are and how they are going to be met.

A good starting point is to have an emergency kit available in the home, including clean drinking water, 3-days worth of non-perishable food, a first aid kit, PPE (including masks and gloves), extra medications and a flashlight with batteries.

4. Accommodate incoming changes

To help your family member continue to live at home you will need to look at their regular activities and consider how their abilities may change over time. Depending on their condition or illness, you will find that in time, their way of living and doing things will change.

Some things to consider are having handrails professionally installed, making sure that non-slip mats are present in the home, buying a shower chair, installing a raised toilet seat, and installing a video security system. These are just some of the things you may wish to consider. Depending on your family members needs, you will need to make the necessary arrangements.

5. Meet their companionship needs

If your family member lives alone, they are at risk for loneliness and health consequences. More than this, research has found that people who live on their own tend to live shorter lives. Loneliness and isolation can often cause lower brain function, inflammation and chronic illness.

Making arrangements to stay connected with your family member is essential. You can arrange to see them on a regular basis. If you live far away from them and you are unable to visit, setting up regular weekly or daily calls or video calls is sure to make their life at home better.

6. Support an active lifestyle

Keeping active is one of the key things for a healthy life. Regular exercise will help your family member strengthen their bones, joints and muscles. Regular physical activity can also help to reduce memory loss, treat depression as well as prevent dementia and slow down its progression.

7. Avoid scams

Older adults are the most targeted group of people by scammers. We advise that you talk to your family member about the danger of falling prey to financial scams. Some of the scams they should be aware of are health insurance scams, false health claims, internet fraud, banking and delivery text message fraud, lottery scams or loved ones needing help scams. You should remind your loved one not to give out any personal information to people who call or email them.

8. Enable easy access for personal items

Belongings such as clothes and personal items should be easily accessible to your loved one at all times. Open wardrobes, for instance, allows your family member to clearly see their options and make choices. Things like money, documents or jewellery should also be easy to access - anything you think they like to have on hand.

9. Find a weekly activity

Oftentimes, older adults will not get out of the house as much as they used to when they were still in the workforce. This can become lonely and instil a level of complacency. This leads to loneliness and depression.

Encouraging hobbies in their local community is a great idea. Senior centres provide a range of activities in which your family member can participate. Some of these activities include bingo, exercise classes, museum outings, or sightseeing trips, for example.

10. Have an open dialogue

Older adults do not typically like to ask for help or share whenever they have an issue. While you should encourage them to continue living life independently, do try to check in on them as often as you can.

Take time to notice how they are doing and observe any changes in their behaviour or day to day routine. Having an open and honest dialogue with your family member may encourage them to open up. You may find out that the level of care support they need must be increased.

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