“Quality of life” is one of those buzzwords we’ve seen thrown around a lot. Nowadays, we’re living longer and longer, and quality of life has become a huge concern for seniors. But what does it actually mean?
It’s a subjective term that’s hard to pin down or even accurately measure. A good starting definition may be “an individual’s level of health, comfort, and happiness.” Using this definition, we can understand why quality of life is so important to our seniors. As we age, we start developing different diseases and medical conditions that compromise our health and comfort. Happiness, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily determined by your health or comfort level. It seems then, that we need to focus on both health and happiness to improve seniors’ quality of life.
Here are some ways we can improve our parent’s, spouse’s, or other ill and elderly loved one’s quality of life:
Control their medical conditions and pain levels.
Before tackling your loved one’s general happiness, you first need to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible. If they have any medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, help them get it under control. Accompany the patient to their appointments, speak with their doctors, and help them manage their conditions.
If your parent suffers from chronic pain, advocate for a working solution. Chronic pain does not have to be a normal part of aging, so make sure your loved one is getting the pain management he or she needs.
Surround them with a community.
A 2013 survey found that 40 percent of seniors valued relationships with friends and family over financial means. The survey also found that seniors who experience feelings of isolation are less optimistic about their future health and quality of life. The point here is that maintaining relationships with people you love can help you stay positive and happy.
Make sure your mom or dad stay in touch with their loved ones. Whether they live at home or in a long-term care facility, arrange for a consistent stream of visitors. These can be relatives who live nearby, neighbors, old friends, or volunteers. Technology is also a great tool for seniors to stay in touch with far-flung family members. Consider gifting a tablet with Skype to your home-bound relative, and teaching them how to use it to video call their far-away loved ones.
Help them feel useful and needed.
Everyone needs to feel like they have a purpose in life. Feeling useless, unwanted, or—worst of all—like a burden, is a sure way to drain your loved one’s happiness. In fact, we’ve recently reported on a study that volunteering consistently actually makes you less likely to develop dementia. Even if your loved one can’t get out and volunteer, there are ways to help feel useful. Ask your aging relatives for advice regularly, and let them know how their counsel helped you.
If your loved one lives with you, here are some ways you can have them help if they’re able:
- Fold laundry
- Open and sort mail
- Write grocery lists
- Read you the news
- Peel vegetables
Besides for helping them feel useful, these tasks will also exercise their coordination and fine motor skills.
Encourage them to stay physically and mentally active.
Even mild physical activity can stimulate balanced and positive feelings. Exercising provides incredible emotional and physical health benefits: it can relieve anxiety and depression, boost the immune system, lower our blood pressure, and improve sleep quality. Besides, working out just makes us feel better. Speak with your loved one’s doctor about which exercises would be appropriate for them.
Mental exercises are also an important part of staying engaged and happy. There are many crossword puzzle and Sudoku books printed in large type especially for seniors. Reading new books is also a great way to keep the brain sharp. Some seniors may prefer audio books if their eyesight is failing.
As we’ve recently discussed in a previous blog post, depression is common among seniors. Learn to recognize the signs of depression in your elderly loved ones, and get them help as soon as possible.
Your loved one with dementia also deserves quality of life.
It’s harder to help someone with dementia maintain their quality of life. For a dementia patient, quality of life will involve providing a safe, comfortable, and familiar living space. They should receive assistance with the things they can’t do alone, yet be able to keep their independence for as long as possible.
Everything discussed above is true for seniors with dementia as well. A rotation of loving visitors, mental and physical exercises, and tasks to help them feel useful will help the dementia patient stay engaged and maintain their quality of life.