- Louvenia Ringuette, RN BSN
Gifts from Heart
Holidays are a difficult time for many people, healthcare workers, tax professionals, retailers, but especially the elderly and those living alone. According to the Institute of Aging, 11.3 million people live alone and 29% of those are 65 years old or older. Pew Research Center, 12% of those elders do not have money to even meet their basic expenses compared to 5% of those living with others. Greater than 61% of elders want to live in their own homes. So make your gift this holiday season count for those you love.
As you start thinking about your gift this year, think our your loved ones chronic health conditions or their aging body. How is that affecting their ability to live alone? Home can be in many different environments now days. Home could be in a single-family dwelling, an apartment, an assisted living apartment, or some other living arrangement where assistance is not available 24/7.
If you live away from your loved one, and you are here for a short visit, then spend a few hours or days observing how they are managing in their own place. Try not to ask 100 questions. Instead take note of the little things that they are struggling with or avoiding because they can no longer do it for themselves.
Make your self a little cheat sheet of things to consider as you observe.
Is the yard in great need of weeding, trimming, mowing or made safer by adding a light or leveling a sidewalk. Is the house overly dusty, the floors sticky, the tubs and toilets dirty? Are bills stacked or scattered everywhere. Does the refrigerator have food in it that has not expired, and is nourishing? What about their clothing? Are their clothes too tight, too loose, or in poor repair? Are their pants too long, shoes too well worn? Both can cause real safety issues, as can not being able to cook anymore. Do they have their medications all over the house? Do they tell you they can't afford their medications or say they can't read the labels anymore? Many elderly must decide on a weekly or monthly basis if they will buy groceries or medications. This can have very dangerous consequences.
After the observation period, you can then ask them how they think they are doing and what would make their life easier and would make their life more successful, and satisfying. Maybe they no longer want to live alone. This would be an important question to consider. Be tactful, they have spent their whole lives getting to where they are today and may feel like you are trying to take away what they have, and the life as they know it. Depending on what you observed, you can provide them gifts of labor, love or money.
Some elderly get around ok but suffer from loneliness or social isolation. In that case you could help get them into a senior center group, a companion program, arrange transportation to a weekly outing such as church, the casino, or senior center, or maybe you could help by visiting and or calling them more often (the gift of love). Maybe they just need a little help now and then with the yard or housework. You could come by and assist with this, or help by setting up a service for them. Someone stopping in to help with meals, yard or housework also helps alleviate the loneliness people often feel when living alone. (A gift of labor or Money).
The gifts you could provide are endless. It might be changing a light bulb, helping to buy that new pair of shoes, putting in or hiring someone to put in grab bars or level the sidewalk, scheduling meals on wheels, or having someone to come in weekly or monthly to set-up medication boxes. Any of these, or other things you noted will help your love one live independently longer.
Make your gift a thoughtful gift. When people ask you what mom or dad could use, tell them your observations, and that they could help with one or two of the "little things" that could make their gift one that enables the loved one to stay in their home safely and happily. There are so many other things I could add, but I hope you get the idea. To prevent your loved one from feeling overwhelmed, threatened, or insulted help them see that you want to provide a meaningful gift since they have provided you with so... many wonderful gifts all these years.
Make your gift count this year with a really personal gift of love, labor and money.