Fall has always been my favorite season of the year! Yes, I love the colors, but that’s not why! Yes, I love the crisp clear mornings, but that’s not why! I adore hayrides, fire pits, and weenie roasts, but that’s not why! I LOVE all my well-used, over-sized sweaters filled with memories – and those aren’t even why! It’s the soup!
Don’t get me wrong, I still eat soup all summer long – and dare anybody to tell me just because it’s 100 degrees outside and humidity is 85% that soup is the wrong choice. It’s making a big pot of potato soup using Mom’s recipe. A recipe stained from spills, has ingredients crossed out, and portions added over the years – an emailed recipe that ends in “Love, Mom.”
Why is it that we’ll phone our family and ask for a recipe, but we won’t call and ask them for help? The older we get, it seems the less we ask. If we are going to successfully navigate the aging years, we simply must learn to ask for the help we need. When we were young, we didn’t hesitate to ask for help. One of my grandson’s first phrases was, “help, please.” Why are we so reluctant? It’s likely because we don’t want to appear helpless. We don’t want to risk our family thinking we can’t live independently anymore, or maybe we just don’t want to be a burden to others.
Realize, though, that it is a gift of peace of mind when they know they can count on you to let them know when help is needed. I know of someone who went without lights in her kitchen for months because she was too frightened to tell her children she needed someone to help change them. She was fearful they would think she shouldn’t be alone anymore and try to convince her to move. The lack of lighting was a fall risk! She was actually less independent by having poor lighting than had she just asked for the help.
Knowing when to ask for help is something we can all learn to master. It doesn’t have to be that we only ask our loved ones, though. Can’t get down on the floor anymore to clean out your cabinets, scrub your tub, clean your baseboards – see what it would cost to hire someone to clean for you! Many agencies will offer specialty services, like just cleaning windows or treatments. If it’s in your budget, take advantage, you’ve earned it! Is cost a factor? There are many homecare services programs that are available. Reach out to your physician’s office or ask your local senior center for agency information.
Hiring a lawn care service after years of a perfectly manicured lawn is not a sin. It may seem like you’re throwing money away, but if it keeps you from planting your face instead of your petunias, it’s well worth the investment!
Don’t worry – you may hear “no” a lot from people you ask. That’s okay! Keep asking. The point is, know that you’re investing in your independence by asking for the help you need.
Speaking of independence, let’s talk about falls. I actually fell off my own shoes last Tuesday. After wearing sneakers for a year because of plantar fasciitis and surgery, I got cocky and wore wedges. Turns out my balance is not what it used to be! Always wear shoes appropriate to the activity in which you’re engaging.
I’ve noticed that my legs are weaker than when I was in my 30’s. Some of that is due to losing muscle mass over the years, but some of it is lack of strength and balance training, plain and simple! If you don’t like to exercise, that’s fine! Find something that you do enjoy. Yoga and Tai Chi, as well as using resistance exercises really help to restore balance and strength. There are facilities, like your local YMCA that offer senior-specific programs. Speak with your physician; he or she may be able to refer you to a physical therapist to teach you proper techniques crafted especially for your needs, and it’s covered by insurance!
Again, we seldom admit it, but one of the greatest factors influencing falls is an overall lack of confidence. Boston University estimates that up to 55% of older adults are impacted by a fear of falling. Your local Area Agencies on Aging and healthcare providers can direct you to classes in the area that can address that, and work with you to restore confidence.
Some tips I know you hear often is to remove throw rugs. If you can’t part with them, at least make sure they have non-skid backs and are intact, free of any pieces that can roll up and cause you to trip. Look at your carpet and make sure there are no raised areas. Carpet stores can provide you with resources to have your carpets stretched and properly put back into place.
A little wobbly stepping up that first step out of your garage? Yep, me too. Stop using that doorframe, and have someone, if not yourself, install handrails.
Improve lighting. Install nightlights at pathways should you need to get up during the night. Ensure your overhead lighting is adequate. Have a pet you let outside? Install dusk till dawn or motion sensor lighting.
Ensure your clothing fits. Believe it or not, baggy or loose clothing can wrap around ankles and legs or get hung in spaces causing a fall. I recently stepped on my own pant leg causing me to stumble into a wall, taking down a row of beautifully placed photos in the process. Explaining that to the check-out desk at a medical office is NOT a comfortable conversation.
Don’t be stubborn – use your assistive devices. It does no one any good if you leave your walker at the kitchen table while you’re at the sink washing dishes! Don’t forget that your glasses are an assistive device that need updating from time to time, too. Impaired vision can greatly contribute to a fall!
Lastly, review your medications with your pharmacist or physician to discuss any that may pose a fall risk. Let them instruct you on the best way to take your medications to reduce your risk.
If you do happen to fall, just make sure you take the time to assess your injuries before moving. Crawl to a chair if possible, and gently try and lift yourself from the floor. A medical alert system, or even a watch that senses when a fall has occurred then calls emergency services for you, may be some items to invest in. There’s always that little tip of carrying your cell phone on you at all times. At least you’d have it close to you should you need it.
This fall, while you’re making up a batch of soup, or one of your favorite recipes with loved ones, use the time to have a conversation about all the ingredients that go into you staying as independent as possible and just how they can help!