- 13 February 2019
Maureen Cable, a trained nurse now working for Helpline Care Alarms, explains eight ways in which older people can be empowered to live independently.
As a nurse and midwife, I spent years working in medicine, particularly casualty and intensive care. Amongst the many sad cases I witnessed, I was always deeply affected by patients who had been unable to get help following accidents. I became passionate about ensuring that older people had the support to be able to summon help if something unfortunate were to happen.
Spending over 15 years in community care, I came to see that the best way to ensure a high quality of life was to help people to live independently, in their own space, without having to move in to care. I now have more than 10 years’ experience in providing pendant alarms, helping thousands of people and their families rest assured that older people are safe in their own homes.
After retirement, during a break from work or a lengthy illness, people may find that if they don’t have something to keep their minds active they gradually lose cognitive ability and memory function. Sometimes this is part of the aging process, but there are ways to reduce this loss of cognitive function and keep the mind active.
For older people, this is particularly important, especially those who spend a lot of time alone and inactive, as mental inactivity can not only have a negative effect on cognitive ability but also on mental wellbeing, and can lead to depression.
There are many aspects that make up cognitive function, including memory, reasoning, communication and judgement. By stimulating each aspect the brain is exercised, much like exercising the body, which has long-lasting positive effects for the individual. There are many different techniques for this, some of which are discussed here, but the preferred technique will depend on the individual.
If possible, it is better to enable someone to stimulate their own mind and therefore be more independent. Visit Helpline Care Alarms blog section for more information on how to empower older people to live independently.
Exercising not only stimulates the body, but also the mind, and it releases powerful endorphins which have been shown to reduce the effects of depression in people of all ages. Any form of movement will be beneficial, whether it is a ballroom dance class or a chair yoga session, as it stimulates the mind by focusing on coordination, perception, judgement and memory.
There are often local activity classes for older people. If possible, a regular time with a friend or relative will be the most enjoyable and beneficial. An enjoyable activity is best as it will be more sustainable.
Mind games are a popular method of training the memory and sharpening our cognitive skills. They vary considerably, from apps on smartphones to good old-fashioned crosswords with paper and pen. They force the mind to focus, challenging memory, reasoning and judgement and are a very effective way to train the mind. If possible, they are often more enjoyable if played with someone else, as then it feels less like homework and becomes simply a game.
Everyone has a hidden talent just waiting to come out, and creative arts are an excellent way to embrace that talent and keep the mind active. From art classes to knitting groups, arts and crafts can be a solitary or a social activity. Either way, it focuses and challenges the mind, while clearing away busy and stressful thoughts and engaging the imagination. It also gives the individual a project to work towards, which can boost self-esteem and general wellbeing.
Many older people suffer from vitamin D deficiency, so getting out into the fresh air and sunshine can be helpful to combat this. However, even for those who are less active, gardening can still be an option in the form of houseplants. Having something small to tend to on a regular basis can be hugely rewarding and involves using judgement, intuition, memory and awareness skills.
Social contact is important. It uses many aspects of the mind, including communication, reasoning, awareness and memory, so it can be great for stimulating the mind and improving mood. Social contact that challenges the mind in a positive way is the most beneficial, for example, children asking for stories will improve memory function, or a challenging debate will improve communication and reasoning.
Music can be utilized in any number of ways, from simply listening to it, to dancing, to playing it. Studies have shown that playing music lights up receptors in the entire brain, making it an ideal way to stimulate the mind. Even for a newcomer to playing music, starting lessons will be hugely beneficial. If playing an instrument is not an option, enabling someone to listen to their favourite songs will help memory function as it stimulates memories associated with each song.
Although TV and films are a form of storytelling, reading engages the mind to a greater extent and uses memory, imagination and communication skills. Across the UK there is a network of Home Library Volunteers who can bring books and audiobooks to the homes of those who cannot access the library easily. They often stay for a chat and are an important resource for older people across the country.
The internet is an extremely useful resource for older people and those cut off from social contact, providing people with the opportunity to research anything they want, shop online, contact loved ones and watch TV shows and films. There are many classes that teach older people how to use the internet and computers in a safe and beneficial way. This is one of the best ways to enable an older person to be independent with limitless possibilities for entertainment, education and communication to stimulate the mind and give a sense of independence and confidence.