When it comes to convincing an aging parent still living on their own to accept help in even the most-simple ways, their adult children are often first met with obstinate resistance.
“Many seniors are fiercely independent, and they want to stay on their own to their own detriment,” said Gina Paglucia Morrison, executive director of Beacon Hill Village (beaconhillvillage.org), a membership-based organization that provides programs and services for residents of the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Downtown/Waterfront, Fenway/Kenmore, and the North End, South End, and West End, over 50, who want to continue living healthy and vibrant lives in their own homes.
The initial challenge is often just getting seniors to accept help in the first place, which should focus on making their homes safer for them, according to Paglucia Morrison.
“We could try all the preventive things, but [some seniors] are totally resistant,” she said. “You need to find things that you could get an older adult to work with to make their homes safer. It takes collaboration and trying different things.”
First, Paglucia Morrison recommends getting a home safety assessment, or a home safety checklist by Googling the CDC, AARP, or the National Council on Aging to “find things that you could get an older adult to work with to make their homes safer.” They go through every room in the house, she said, making suggestions like installing a grab-bar or two in the bathroom, or keeping throw rugs to a minimum in other rooms.
“Falls are a big risk, but what can you do to prevent them?” asked Paglucia Morrison. “The biggest thing that leads to people having to leave their homes, is they fall, then their health deteriorates, and their mobility goes down.”
A medical alert system can be a lifesaver in the event of a fall, but many seniors resist wearing one.
“Apple Watch has a fall detector, or other new devices are less offensive [than the old ones],” said Paglucia Morrison. “I hope that the devices get friendlier, and that more people are willing to use them.”
Besides home safety, the next biggest concern for seniors living on their own is personal health, and one option for this is to arrange for a home health-aid via elder healthcare providers, such as Ethos or Boston Senior Home Care.
“You can get an aid a couple of times a week for a few hours each time, and they’ll work with you regardless of your income,” said Paglucia Morrison. “And if you can get older adults to accept a little help around the house – and there is help available, too – it could be a good segue way that then, maybe they need more help.”
Loneliness and lack of companionship are emotional hardships faced by many seniors, said Paglucia Morrison, and for them, the Boston nonprofit FriendshipWorks, a Boston nonprofit that matches seniors with volunteers for a “friendly visit,” could offer a solution.
“Just having someone an hour a week on the phone or in person…or maybe just having some younger person take a walk with them, or run errands for them, is all it takes for an older person to have a connection,” said Paglucia Morrison, adding that connections might also notice a change in a senior’s health and alert others to it.
For seniors who can afford one, geriatric care counselors are hired consultants who give seniors an overall assessment looking at all aspects of their lives, including their finances, to determine if they live at home; if they can afford to live there; and what kind of support they need to stay in their homes.
“These companies do everything,” said Paglucia Morrison. “They look at seniors’ finances and can help them find assisted living or a primary care physician. If the family wants to start planning in a very holistic manner, then this is an option. They can be you in another location, but it’s costly.”
In the end though, Paglucia Morrison said getting enough exercise is the key factor that enables seniors to continue living safely and independently in their own homes.
“It seems intuitive, but the more you can encourage seniors to exercise and stay active can also be preventative measure,” she said. “Exercise and fitness is super important and helps keep people independent, and there’s no question that movement can prevent falls.”