As we age and our bodies inevitably decline, some of us will need more
support from family and friends.
However, most of us will want to stay independent and make our own decisions for as long as possible. Here are some ideas for
keeping safe and able to live on your own.
By Dr. John W. Crosby
Maintaining a house costs money, and it’s a lot more expensive than it used to be. But it’s still cheaper to look after your property well than to spend $24,000 a year on a nursing home. You will have to pay market value for house cleaning, upkeep, repairs, gardening and snow removal. Don’t rely on friends, family and neighbours all of the time.
De-clutter your place. Get help and have a garage sale. Donate what doesn’t sell to your favourite charity. Don’t hang on to your home if it is too difficult to keep up. A seniors’ apartment can bring lots of company and one-floor living makes it easy to get around.
Accident-proof your house
Falls often lead to injuries, which can end up in a move to a nursing home. Ask your family doctor for a homecare assessment. He or she will send out a nurse, for free, to give you advice on staying safe and healthy. Do what the nurse says—you have paid for this service with your taxes. The nurse will probably advise you to get rid of scatter rugs and upgrade your lighting. He or she might also suggest safety rails, a walker or a cane. If this is the case, don’t be too proud to use what is recommended—pride comes before a fall!
See your family doctor regularly
Make regular appointments with your family doctor and do what he or she says to avoid osteoporosis and other diseases. Get checked for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Stop smoking. All of these can cause your arteries to harden, which leads to a greater risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, blindness and poor leg circulation, possibly resulting in amputation.
Take all your medications
Take all your medications, including over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies, to every appointment with your family doctor or specialist. If you start mixing up your medications, ask your pharmacist for a bubble pack. Alternatively, the homecare office can send a nurse to help for free.
Get your eyes checked yearly
Get your eyes checked each year (this is free) and keep your teeth healthy by seeing your dentist every six months. Dental care can be expensive, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Get a personal alarm system
Personal alarm systems, such as those from Lifeline, provide you with a button or similar device that you wear around your neck to call for help. The monitoring cost of $30 a month—or $360 a year—is again cheaper than the cost and discomfort of moving to a nursing home.
Be good to your caregivers
If your caregivers burn out then you’ll be in trouble. Everyone needs a holiday. Thank the people who help you and spread jobs out among a number of family members, friends and professionals. Pay for help if necessary. Your family doctor can help you find a reliable healthcare or government support agency in your area.
Stay sociable and involved
Volunteer and participate in the community through church or social activities. Many cities have seniors’ programs. Look them up or ask your family doctor for advice. Keep your brain active with reading and puzzles.
Eat healthy foods—not just tea and toast!
Freeze a bunch of good meals and microwave them as needed, or sign up for Meals on Wheels. Ask your family doctor how to apply.
Adapted with permission from Dr. John W. Crosby.
Dr. Crosby was an emergency specialist for 20 years then a seniors family physician in Cambridge, Ontario for 22. He is medical director of two nursing homes and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and family medicine at McMaster and Queens University. He is a caregiver for his 96-year-old mother.