Editor’s note: California native Laura Yancey has worked in social services and in-home care her entire career. She has directed the Faithful Friends Home Care program at Rowntree Gardens Senior Living since July 2014. Equipped with an innate desire to help and serve others, Laura brings 20 years of experience working with the Department of Social Services and with seniors. Similar to Rowntree Gardens, Faithful Friends’ greatest strength is offering an exceptional, caring and devoted staff that provides clients with compassionate, highly personal care and treats them like family.
Richard Nordsiek has worked with seniors at Rowntree Gardens since he was a teenager, regularly collaborates with Laura to help her fulfill Faithful Friends’ mission, and manages a 315-person staff.
I have learned so much about humanity, compassion and independence while working with more than 1,000 seniors during the last two decades. I can’t think of a more appreciative, wise or gentle group of people – and certainly no other I’d prefer to serve.
While most seniors wish to stay independent during their later years of life, it’s not always possible. A study by the University of Michigan found that two-thirds of older Americans need some form of assistance to go about their daily lives. Hopefully, family members can be available to assist. Sometimes, a little extra help is required.
At Faithful Friends, our caregivers provide a range of services based on what a client needs – from a full spectrum of services for low-mobility clients to light housekeeping and cooking to companionship and transportation services. No matter what clients need, our staff focus on helping seniors live as independently and happily as possible.
It is our honor to help our clients maintain their independence, dignity, happiness and safety. Following are six strategies Richard and I have developed to help our clients achieve just that:
1. Safety First
Staying safe is one of the most essential parts of ensuring a senior can live independently. As part of our initial 60- to 90-minute interview, we also conduct a safety assessment of a senior’s home to review the following:
- Location and condition of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Any uneven floors or steps
- Adequate source of light at night
- Location of a working fire extinguisher
- Any obstructed pathways
- Any tripping areas or unsecured throw rugs
If a senior is living alone in a large house, we’ll recommend downsizing to a smaller space, if possible. A smaller home naturally decreases risks and the amount of space in which accidents can happen. Having the bathroom, kitchen and living space on one floor can decrease tripping and falling risks associated with going up and down stairs.
For seniors, even a minor fall can lead to serious injury. According to the AARP, one-third of older adults who fall suffer moderate to serious injuries, including hip fractures and head trauma.
Following are some key home-safety considerations:
- Rugs – these are one of the main causes of slips and falls. We recommend removing them or, at a minimum, making sure they’re fully secured to the floor along all edges.
- The bathroom has often been cited as one of the most dangerous rooms in a senior’s home. According to Consumer Affairs, 80 percent of falls occur in the bathroom. Some of our recommendations include adding safety grab rails for easy access in and out of the bathtub/shower, adding a slip-resistant bath mat, removing any glass cups or containers, and installing a raised toilet seat for easier access.
- Be cautious using any steps or stairs. Try to relocate necessary items to one floor for easier access. Also try adding safety rails or invest in stair-lift system along the stairs. If a bedroom is on another floor, consider consolidating all living to just the first floor.
- The kitchen can be a dangerous place if seniors aren’t careful. Minimize the risk of a fire by investing in automatic shut-off devices for seniors who cook.
- To minimize accidents in the kitchen, avoid using out-of-reach cabinets (temptation to stand on a chair or step stool), and keep the kitchen uncluttered to reduce the risk of tripping or falling.
- In the bedroom, consider purchasing bedrails to assist with getting in and out of bed.
- During my initial, in-home meeting with seniors, I also have an in-depth conversation to understand each person’s desires, personality and level of required care. Caring for someone involves also caring for his or her personality, preferences, concerns and unique needs.
Children almost always want the very best possible care for their moms and dads. I always try to engage as many family members as possible to create an establish partnership and ensure effective, ongoing communication. This helps with the family dynamics, and keeps everyone involved and not feeling left out. However, it’s often one lead family member who has the final say.
After obtaining a complete picture of a client’s needs, I pair him or her with a caregiver specifically suited to his or her personality and specific needs. This makes all the difference…and helps to build a meaningful relationship.
2. Stay Connected, Not Isolated
Companionship is an integral part of ensuring a senior lives a happy, fulfilling life.
We encourage clients to always have someone in their lives they can call on for support and company – whether it’s a close friend, family member or one of our caregivers. Companionship can even be as simple as having someone accompany a senior on errands.
Loneliness can actually be deadly for seniors. According to University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, a study of 2,100 adults age 55+ found that lacking close personal connections raised an individual’s risk of premature death by 14 percent. If your senior parent or loved one is alone, make sure he or she is not lonely.
Over the years, we’ve realized that being social is more than just having fun. According to the Center for Advancing Health, elderly people who are socially active and maintain or increase interactions with others as they age have a slower progression of health declines than elderly people who are less socially engaged.
We always encourage seniors to stay connected with their social networks. During our initial client interviews, we ask clients about any and all social opportunities they’re involved in. We also make suggestions about social activities they can participate in and encourage them to make friends with neighbors in the community.
One gentleman we work with in Fountain Valley had socialized with friends at the Elks Lodge in Garden Grove. After he stopped driving, he wasn’t able to go. He hired one of our caregivers and she takes him there every so often, as well as to the park and to lunch at the beach. His family actually sent me a letter telling me how happy they were and how much of a connection their dad has with his new caregiver. Letters like that are golden and icing on the cake.
There are plenty of Orange County communities offering a wide range of activities for seniors to participate in. At the Stanton Community Center, weekly senior activities include karaoke, bingo, and live piano music. For example, the Long Beach Senior Center offers art and cultural experiences, fitness and dance classes, health and social services, excursions and much more at six locations.
Here’s a list of and links to senior centers in Orange County. Nearly every community lists the activities, services and amenities they offer; a calendar of events; and contact information.
Rowntree Gardens also hosts a wide variety of events that Faithful Friends’ clients are invited to, including: movie, book and cooking groups; exercise classes; card games; crafts clubs; live concerts and lunches in the park (on our grounds); holiday events; and much more. There are definite perks having our two organizations closely integrated.
Key to finding happiness in living independently is ensuring that seniors aren’t lonely or isolated. We emphasize to seniors that just because they’re living alone, doesn’t mean they need to be lonely. We strongly encourage and try to facilitate having seniors’ family members present in their lives.
3. Use Technology for Peace of Mind
In addition to minimizing safety risks at home, we strongly recommend that our clients at least have a cell phone with them at all times in case of a slip or fall. Consider a cell phone designed specifically for seniors. According to the Pew Research Center and Caring.com, many seniors won’t use a cell phone even in an emergency. Often, an average phone may be too complicated for some elderly to use. So, make it easy. The Jitterbug phone is specifically designed for senior use. Large buttons improve visibility, and an amplified speaker helps those hard of hearing.
There are many products designed to enable seniors to call for help in case of an emergency. Life Alert, Philips Lifeline, and Alert-1 are among the best known. Each provides a service where a person can call for help simply by pressing a button on a wearable device. A notice is sent to a dispatch center that then alerts the authorities. QuietCare technology provides real-time monitoring and sends automatic alerts to friends and family members. Monthly monitoring fees are usually $20 to $30.
4. Nurture Your Mind and Body
If a senior isn’t particularly mobile, there are still numerous activities available to keep him or her engaged. With our clients who have physical limitations, we always try to find out what interests and hobbies they have. Some of the activities we recommend include: Board and card games, puzzles, crafts, reminiscing and looking through old photos, and many others.
One of our clients is bedridden. Her children visit her often but when they can’t, her caregiver watches TV with her, talks to and plays cards with her, and cooks for her. She really likes comfort food and with that caregiver’s cooking, she actually went up to a healthier weight.
Don’t worry about vigorous exercise. Almost anyone can go on a short walk. Exercise does a body good! If a senior is fairly mobile, there are lots of activities he or she can participate in – such as those at local gyms or senior centers.
In-home instructional videos for low-impact, relaxing activities such as yoga can also be helpful. There are several “yoga-for-beginners” videos available especially geared toward seniors who need to start slowly. We do a variety of these things with our community members at Rowntree Gardens.
The National Institute for Health (NIH) Senior Health recommends a few key strategies to help seniors stay active. Making exercise a regular habit can help and so can enlisting friends and family to turn exercise into a social activity.
We’ve seen many examples of how even small amounts of physical activity can help maintain the ability to live independently, reduce the risk of falls, fend off heart disease and reduce blood pressure.
6. Don’t Lose Your Voice
Our Faithful Friends caregivers never force clients to do something. As long as safety isn’t a concern, seniors should remember that they always have the ultimate say in their own care.
Compassionate caring always comes first.
For example, if a client doesn’t want to go for a long walk one day, that’s OK. Our caregivers will make adjustments that respect our client’s desires while still making sure we are providing the best care. So, perhaps we’ll just take a stroll to the end of the street, or maybe we’ll do some stretches at home. Exercise compassionate compromise.
By keeping these six strategies in mind, it’s easier for seniors from all walks of life to maintain their independence, dignity, sense of community and safety as they age. And, that’s the goal.
If you have any questions about these tips or desire information about in-home caregivers, please call Faithful Friends and Rowntree Garden, (714) 530-9100; see our website, http://rowntreegardens.org/; or make an appointment with Laura Yancey. We’re located at 12151 Dale Ave., Stanton, CA 90680.