Caring for Seniors with Mobility Problems
Advice for families and caregivers
Mobility problems have serious consequences for seniors, dramatically altering quality of life. Accidents, two-thirds of which are falls, are the fifth largest cause of death in the elderly and can both be caused by, and result in, mobility problems.
Are there any devices that could help my parent's mobility problems?
What changes need to be made in my parent's home to accommodate the new wheelchair?
Should my disabled parent get a handicapped parking sticker due to mobility problems?
How can I help my parent with mobility problems when she fears that she will fall again?
How can I help my parent cope with her frustration over mobility problems?
How can I help my parent who has mobility problems, an uncertain gait, and seems very frail?
How can I help my parent who seems depressed over mobility problems?
How can I find a caregiver to help my parent with mobility problems?
For a temporary disability, you might want your parent to recover either at your home or your parent's, until normal mobility is restored. Or, you may want to hire a home care aide who can assist your parent -- by shopping, cleaning and cooking, as needed -- until your parent is back on his or her feet.
You have the same options if the disability is long term, but the situation would then be ongoing.
Some parents enter assisted living, or even nursing homes, when mobility becomes very limited. Others move closer to, or in with, a grown child. Others hire home care aides or transportation providers.
Ask your parent's doctor or occupational therapist about mobility aides -- devices that should help him or her get around more easily. Some of these include canes, walkers, transfer boards and transfer discs (to help slide out of bed), canes with large handles, risers (sort of like booster chairs) for chairs or couches, swivel seat cushions for the car, and wheelchairs.
Homes can be modified with:
- ramps, instead of stairs, at entrances
- widened hallways to permit easy wheelchair passage
- roll-in showers that are wide enough for wheelchairs and have grab bars to hold on to
- raised toilets that are easier to access and that have grab bars next to them
- sinks and counters at levels that can be reached from a wheelchair
- wider doors that are easy to open.
Many websites, such as adaptiveacccess.com, offer information about options for making a home more accessible.
Having a handicapped parking sticker would ensure that your parent could always park close to the entrance of the building he or she is going to and might enable your parent to get out more.
Handicapped parking stickers can be obtained from your state's registry of motor vehicles. The application usually requires a doctor's signature.
Of course, many communities provide rides for seniors, which would be another option, as would taking a cab or getting a ride from a friend or relative.
Have a trained professional -- which includes geriatric care managers, certified aging-in-place specialists, and most employees at home care agencies -- evaluate your parent's home to make sure it is "fall proof." This will most likely involve:
- removing any clutter from the floor
- clearing passageways from the bed to the bathroom
- securely fastening all rugs
- enhancing lighting in all entrances and staircases
- installing grab bars in the bathrooms
- adding banisters next to all steps that don't have them
- replacing stairs to the front door with a graduated slope.
In addition, encourage your parent to speak with her health care provider about exercises to improve balance, or to see a physical or occupational therapist (someone trained to help people overcome disabilities to function in work and home environments) to learn these exercises.
Here are some ways you can help:
- Suggest that your parent join a support group. Sharing frustrations and coping strategies with others in her situation could help. Some support groups for people with handicaps can be found at Disability/Support Groups or Disabilities R US. You should also check with your state's Aging and Disability Resource Centers for local groups near you.
- Some seniors have benefited from the regular practice of relaxation techniques, which have been found to decrease anxiety and boost the immune system. Talk with your parent about the different relaxation techniques available, and see if one feels comfortable for her.
- Another option is to ask your parent's doctor for anxiety medication.
Movement and exercise can help strengthen muscles and bones and diminish the balance problem. However, your parent will need to move carefully and safely, perhaps with the help of a walker or of an attendant -- either a family member or home care aide. Here are some suggestions:
- Talk with your parent's health care provider to learn if any exercises would help. Be sure you know how to do them properly, and then guide your parent while he or she does them. Or, if you live far away, encourage your parent to do the exercises and help find someone to work with him or her to do them properly. Offering positive reinforcement for movement, while also acknowledging any pain your parent may be experiencing, can strengthen your parent's determination to keep moving as much as possible.
- Ask your parent's physician to arrange for someone to show you how to help your parent get around. This person could be a physical therapist, visiting nurse, occupational therapist (someone trained to help people overcome disabilities and to function in work and home environments) or social worker, who could also help you arrange for medical equipment (wheelchair or walker).
- Warn your parent not to carry bulky loads, such as laundry or garbage, as these could destabilize him or her. Find someone to do your parent's laundry as needed and to take out the garbage.
- Have a physical therapist teach your parent how to fall safely and how to get up from a fall. Practicing these measures could help overcome fear of falling.
Here are some specific things you can do to help your parent cope with mobility issues:
- Validate your parent's sadness and frustration over this major change in life.
- Help your parent think of alternate ways to see friends (such has inviting them to his or her home instead of meeting them somewhere) or participate in social events (have someone help her to get there).
- Make sure your parent receives successful treatment for the depression.
Care.com is a website that lists people throughout the United States who provide care to seniors, includes photos and descriptions of their experience, and does free background checks for members. You can search by zip code. For specific listings, go to: Care.com.