As we age, challenges of mind and body begin to take place, occasionally with an obvious event, but often in very subtle ways over time. A stroke or illness that is debilitating enough to require a lifestyle change alerts family to the need for different living and care arrangements. In many cases though, friends and family members might not recognize the less evident decline that begins to affect daily routines. And often the senior is hesitant to mention issues or ask for help.
My client Sarah for instance, had already downsized and transitioned to an independent living apartment in a large retirement community. She got referred to me when she was feeling the need to ‘downsize again’ to relieve the clutter in her spaces. In her early eighties and in overall good health, Sarah was finding it increasingly difficult to function in her apartment and to accomplish routine tasks. She felt her energy and enthusiasm for certain things had diminished, and her ability to remain focused on detail work (like keeping her finances in order) was starting to become problematic. Although she had some family close by, they had busy lives of their own, so Sarah was reluctant to ‘bother’ them with her problems. And when family visited, they didn’t perceive these challenges. I have been able to work with Sarah on a number of occasions, providing her both comfort and assistance.
I was able to help her decide on things to purge from the apartment, and to find organizations she felt connected to for donations of personal and household items. I let her tell me the stories of some of her possessions she no longer needed but which held important memories. My listening made it easier for her to let go. Because of her situation, I also took her donations to drop-off locations for her.
Sarah was experiencing some mobility concerns and difficulty with easy access to some of her storage areas. We talked through each concern and I created new furniture arrangements that were conducive to easier movement through the rooms. I provided her with some new storage solutions that maximized use of the areas that were easier for her to reach, and labeled things to help her remember where to find them and where to return them after use.
Because Sarah was finding it a struggle to keep order with her finances, I put together a simple schedule for her reference, which included vendors, due dates, and normal invoice amounts. It was designed to help her remember what was coming due, and be a document that could transition to whoever would help her when she no longer felt comfortable managing these details. We made an easy filing system so she would know where to store and find her paperwork. I also put in place some other simple solutions to help her throughout the apartment: a specific drop spot for her glasses, keys and ID, a small white board near her front door for noting reminders to herself, small open plastic bins to keep her small things labeled and under control (medications, toiletries, etc.), and a binder for keeping important information and documents.
I find it very rewarding to work with seniors. Their gratitude is freely expressed, and even small changes can have big impact. I encourage family members to be on the lookout for signs that your loved ones may need assistance with things they have done for themselves for so long. If your situation or location makes it difficult to assist yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional who can step in. Knowing your loved ones are safe and able to have their daily needs met will bring peace of mind to everyone.