The emotional impact of aging and care
As we grow older, we deal with a different set of emotional challenges. Thinking about this can be daunting – especially because no one knows what lies ahead.
That’s why it’s a good idea to plan ahead and consider the emotional impact getting older may have.
Planning ahead for care can help reduce any anxiety you may have about getting older. It can also give you peace of mind about how you’ll manage your care needs in the future.
Anticipating major life changes
Many of us look forward to retirement. Stopping working can sound great – it’s what many of us can’t wait for.
However, if your career or working life is important to you, you might not want it to wind down. And the social aspect of work is something that many people miss when they retire.
When you retire, it’s not uncommon to feel:
- a loss of identity. This can happen when you stop working – even if you’re spending more time looking after grandchildren, for example.
- isolated. Many people don’t have family around as they get older and they may find they have fewer friends around too.
- insecure. Life changes can be scary and may lead to loss of self-worth.
Major life changes aren’t always single, landmark events such as retirement. They can also be gradual changes.
As you get older, your general health and fitness may deteriorate. You may also find that your mobility is affected – so you can’t do as much as you used to.
Whatever changes we experience in later life, socialising and maintaining relationships becomes very important. And having meaningful connections is vital to our wellbeing.
Getting older and retiring can also give you a fresh start. If you’ve stopped working, you may have more time on your hands. You can use this extra time to focus on exploring new interests and making new friends.
If you’re thinking about trying something new, you could ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it time for me to learn something new – maybe a new language or skill?
- What have I done in the past that I’d like to do again now that I have time?
- What about volunteering? Would doing something to help others be something I’d like?
- Is there something I’ve never done that I’d like to try?
- Would taking up a new activity with someone else help? Do I know someone with a similar interest to me?
Learning and memory loss
Many of us think that as the brain grows older, our capacity for reasoning starts to decline. However, this isn’t necessarily true. The truth is, a person’s intellectual capacity remains the same well into old age.
The elderly are just as intelligent as younger people. However, they sometimes process information more slowly – or must repeat a new skill several times before they learn it.
Studying can be a great way to boost your memory and keep you brain active. If you’re thinking of learning something new, there’s plenty of places where you can study or learn a practical skill.
If you’re not sure where to start, The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a good resource. It offers courses for retired people to study everything from arts and crafts through to history and computers.
Your local U3A can give you information about lunches and outings, such as going to concerts or the theatre. Your local council website will also provide lots of information about things going on in your area.
What causes memory loss?
Have you ever forgotten where you left your glasses? Or maybe you forgot to call someone when you said you would? Or missed an appointment?
As we get older, we all experience brief memory lapses. Short-term memory lapses can be normal. However, if your forgetfulness is interfering significantly with your life, it’s a good idea to go and see your GP.
Your GP can give you a professional opinion on what may be causing any memory lapses. They’ll be able to rule out a number of reversible medical conditions that can affect memory, such as:
- tiredness – from lack of sleep
- any side effects of medication
- depression – or general apathy
- treatable conditions, such as thyroid problems or a vitamin B-12 deficiency, or
- a urine infection.
Keeping your brain active
There are things you can do to help improve your memory and boost your brain function. Staying mentally active can be as simple as doing crosswords – or reading books and newspapers.
Here are some other ways you can look after your memory and brain:
- socialise regularly
- do some physical activity every day – such as gardening or walking
- eat a healthy diet
- manage any chronic illness you might have
- get organised – if things are in place you can feel like you have a clearer head
- take a class, a course or learn something new
- consider voluntary work or part-time work, and
- stay in touch with friends and relatives – writing letters is a good way to do it.
You can find more information about how to keep your brain active at the Alliance for Aging Research.
Becoming less independent
As we get older, we sometimes become less physically able to enjoy hobbies, travel or manage our home. For some people, this loss of capacity feels like a loss of independence.
If you’re used to doing things for yourself, you may find it difficult to rely on others for help. You may also find it hard to ask other people for small favours. This can be true when it comes to asking people who once relied on you for help – like your children.
Losing independence is a common experience for elderly people. When we can’t do things we used to do, it’s normal to feel sad and frustrated at times.
If you can’t do many of the things you used to do, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Being less physically able to do things isn’t a sign of failure – it’s a normal part of getting older.
Travelling independently, getting yourself to appointments and visiting friends is a big part of being independent. Many people stop driving when they get older – quite often for health reasons.
If you are struggling to travel independently, there are resources you can access for help. You can:
- Get a copy of your local bus services and timetables and see where they can take you.
- Ask your council if they provide a dial-a-bus service if you want to go somewhere that’s not on a bus route. They might also offer other transport services if you need assistance.
- Find a home care company whose carers offer help with transport. Home care companies don’t just look after you in your home. Many employ carers who can accompany you on a day out – or to an appointment.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by major life changes, and loss of independence, you can talk to your GP. They’ll be able to offer you help and advice for ways you can adapt to the changes you’re experiencing.
Moving into a care home
Leaving your home and moving into a care home is a major life change. That’s why it can be a difficult change to deal with.
5 tips for settling into a new care home
Our tips below can help you make a move into a care home that little bit easier.
Take familiar things with you
Having familiar things around you can make you feel at home.
Taking things like paintings, photos, books, music and even cushions to your care home can make it feel more homely.
Depending on what sort of space you’re moving into, you may be able to bring some furniture with you. If the home you’re moving to isn’t a nursing home, you may even be able to bring your bed.
Ask lots of questions
When you’re in a new environment, everything feels unfamiliar. That’s why you have to make sure you ask for help to find out where things are.
The more you ask for help, the sooner you’ll feel more confident in walking around alone.
Chat to staff – and other residents
The staff at the care home are there to help you. You’ll help them if you tell them what you like to do – and when you like to do it. For example, if you prefer to have lunch in your room or like a lie-in at weekends – just say so.
Chatting to other residents at the care home will help you pick up tips for how things work.
Stay in touch with your relatives – and get them involved
Telling your relatives what you’re up to is a good way to make your move to a care home easier. If you can, let your friends and relatives know that you’ve moved – and make sure they have your new address.
Once you’ve moved into a care home, staying in touch with friends and family is really important. If you don’t have a mobile phone, you might be able to install a landline phone in your room.
You can also invite your family to attend any residents’ meetings at your new care home. These meetings are quite often open to relatives of residents too. These informal gatherings are a good place to talk about any issues affecting residents.
Your care home may also have a regular newsletter that you can give to your relatives to read.
Get involved in activities
Most care homes offer activities that residents can get involved in. You’ll probably have looked at what’s on offer activity-wise when you were choosing a care home.
When you move into the care home, try and get involved in an activity that’s on offer. It’ll be a good way to get to know the staff and other residents. It can also make you feel more at home more quickly.
What can I take with me to a care home?
Before you move, make sure you check what you can bring with you. You can ask the care-home manager to let you know what you can and can’t bring. If you’re moving into your own room in a care home, you may be able to bring:
- some furniture
- your television, and
- your bed.
Things such as framed photos and favourite ornaments can all help make your new room feel more familiar. Even things like favourite cushions and blankets can help you feel more at home in a new place.
It’s also a good idea to label your clothes with your name. This can help avoid them getting mixed up in the laundry.
What if I'm taking time to adjust?
It can take time to adjust to new surroundings. This isn’t something to worry about – it’s completely normal. Taking time to adjust can happen even if you pick a care home you like and you feel ready to move.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable or unhappy about your move, make sure you talk to someone about it. You can speak to relatives, friends and staff at the care home.
If your local council is funding your place, you can speak to them about how you feel.
What if I’m unhappy with my care home?
When you move into your care home, it becomes your new home. This new home should be a welcoming, safe and nurturing place to live.
If you think your care home isn’t offering a good enough standard of care – or you’re unhappy – you can complain. You can find out more information about how to complain about a care home here.
If you're unhappy with the area you’re living in, and want to move, you should let your local council know. They’ll be able to provide you with a list of alternative care homes. You must also keep your current care home updated – so they know what’s happening.