How to Encourage Self-Care in Elderly Relatives

Elderly self-care is a concept that has been gaining in popularity in recent years. In short, it’s exactly what it sounds like: It’s a set of tools and strategies designed to encourage elderly people to care for themselves and to be in charge of their own health. Adherents of this movement view self-care as an alternative to care facilities and nursing homes that take care of all their patients’ needs.

One motivation for the self-care movement is for individuals to begin pushing back against worldwide medical care industry that increasingly treats patients as customers. We all have a right to be healthy and happy in our senior years, but certain segments of the medical system may actually work against this.

Even if you don’t take this cynical view of health care, there’s no denying the practical benefits of self-care. For one thing, it helps keep elderly individuals stay sharp for a longer time, and it gives them a feeling of control over their own lives. Meanwhile, it also eases the burden on family members.

What are the best ways to encourage self-care in an elderly relative?

1) Be open. Unfortunately, some people don’t have the patience to openly discuss health issues with elderly relatives, either because they want to shield their loved one from the truth, or they don’t think he or she will understand. This is a mistake. Elderly people feel much more secure and in control when they understand the conditions they have, why they’re experiencing certain symptoms, and what treatment options are available.

2) Don’t assume an elderly person is not capable. Always give your elderly relative a chance to perform tasks on her own. Of course, when we see our grandmother or grandfather having difficulty with something, it’s only natural to want to give them a hand. While in many cases we should help, it never hurts to ask first, just in case they want to do it on their own.

3) Don’t rush. If your relative feels that you’re sitting around waiting for her to finish a task, she may give up. Always make sure your relative knows that she can take as much time as she needs to do something.

4) Install enhancements and equipment. Step ramps, shower seats, and bathroom railings are just a few examples of minor, relatively cheap household improvements that make self-care much easier.

5) Inform care-giving staff. If your elderly relative lives in a care facility or receives periodic home health care, tell the professionals who work with her that you’re trying to encourage self-care. Because these individuals are paid to help, it’s their natural tendency to want to do everything for their patients. However, if you talk to them, most will be understanding and supportive of self-care techniques.

6) Address problem areas. For instance, if your elderly relative has trouble making her own meals, try to get to the bottom of the difficulty. Maybe the cabinets in the kitchen are hard to reach. Maybe things are too spread out. Sometimes, simple rearrangement of elements in a room can do wonders.

7) Take an active role. Although it may sound like an oxymoron, it’s important for family members to be directly involved in an elderly relative’s self-care. Keep the channels of communication open, and monitor how she feels. If she’s not getting proper nutrition, sleep, and timely medication, she won’t feel as good as she could. At times, you may have to step in to make sure that all of these things are happening.