As of 2011, the Baby Boomers have started to turn 65 and will rapidly add to the numbers of North Americans classed as “seniors”. In the US alone, this group will surge from 13% of the population in 2010 to nearly 20% by the year 2030. And as they have at every age, the Boomer segment will have tremendous impact on the economy, healthcare and other services and even housing. According to a survey by the National Association of Realtors in 2013, 14% of houses (or about 1 in 7) are purchased to serve as multi-generational housing. In a third of the cases the driver relates to caring for aging parents (20%) or simply wanting to spend more time with aging parents (11%). Having older folks move into your home is a wonderful way to stay close and to ensure proper care as time passes. But preparing for co-habitation is not as simple as just providing a room or an in-law suite. There are many things to consider to ensure the health and safety of your loved ones – fundamentals like accessibility, privacy and maintaining independence, where possible, are crucial.
On the health front, it will be important to watch for nutritional pitfalls. Although appetite is very likely to decrease with age, it is still absolutely necessary to ensure that balanced meals continue to be consumed regularly. An easy cheat from time to time is a liquid meal replacement like Ensure or Boost. As we age, our sense of taste diminishes somewhat. So enjoyment of food may not be the same — possibly decreasing the desire to eat. Eating alone and the challenge of preparing meals for one (or even two) can rob anyone of the enjoyment of a meal. So make a point of trying to share meals occasionally. It’s a good chance to spend some time chatting and understanding how your parent(s) is managing. Where possible, connect in “their” space. This will let you make some casual observations …are they maintaining cleanliness standards (fatigue or loss of mobility may impact here)? Are they taking medications as scheduled (it’s an easy thing to forget – at any age)? Is the milk sitting out on the counter from breakfast (small thing perhaps but could also signal dementia)?
Similarly, as we get older, our bodies start to lose the ability to regulate fluid levels and our sense of thirst may not be as attuned to our needs. Further, the use of prescription medications becomes commonplace and some can increase the risk of dehydration. Helping the seniors in your life manage their fluid intake can be as simple as posting a note on the frig door as a reminder to sip some water every hour or to take a glass of water with meals. A jug of cool water infused with slices of lemon, orange and lime or even cucumber can add to the enjoyment. Though water is the best thing for hydration, coffee and tea – especially – herbal also add some interest. A single serving machine like Keurig or Tassimo is an inexpensive way to make brewing for one quick and simple.
Drinking enough water is key but so too is the quality of the water! Because aging also results in reduced immune function, resistance to common “bugs” like colds and flu will be less. In short, we become more susceptible to infections generally– even from sources we have been exposed to for many years – like drinking water. This will be especially true if your drinking water comes from a private well. Bacteria in water can cause stomach upset and diarrhea which can then lead to dehydration. But even if your home is on “city water”, installing a disinfection system such as an ultraviolet sterilizer provides that extra insurance – safe water at every tap 24/7.
So it’s your turn to be the caregiver. You’ll want to be sure you can provide a comfortable and safe environment. Welcoming Mom and/or Dad into your home is a big step and commitment. Be sure to think through the details and when it comes to water quality and safety…think UV.