How to delay the need for elderly care

Retaining and maintaining independence is a hot topic at the moment.

As an ageing population threatens to place a massive burden on our health and welfare system, the government is increasingly investing in and researching ways to keep us fit and healthy for longer. Individuals themselves are also becoming more focused on their overall wellbeing – with a huge buzz around nutrition and fitness for both young and old.

Staying well (and therefore remaining independent) is often seen as the key to extending life in the best possible way – and delaying the need for elderly care, both residential and at home.

If independence is a concern for you but you’re not sure where to start, help is at hand. At UK Care Guide we specialise in advising individuals needing elderly care and their families – but we also recognise the importance of prevention.

As an increasing number of those who request our help express a desire to stay in their own home for longer, we decided to write this article, compiling a handy list of activities and lifestyle changes you can make to better your chances of living a long, healthy life.

Join clubs and groups

Socialising has been shown in multiple studies to be great for mental health – and therefore it has a positive effect on our overall wellbeing. Unfortunately as we age we are at increased risk of loneliness and isolation – both of which have been proven to contribute to poor health.

Thankfully there are social clubs and groups all over the UK who cater to a wide range of people – of all ages.

You don’t have to go to a group specifically for the elderly. Instead think about your hobbies and interests and find out where you can take part in a group in your area. You might like to take up archery again – or join an amateur theatre company.

Perhaps you’re an artist – or would love to be part of a book club. If you would prefer to socialise in an informal environment with people of a similar age there are plenty of organisations, often funded by charity, that arrange regular weekly or monthly meet-ups and dinners.

They also organise days out and holidays for members. You can find out about these by contacting your local Age UK or Citizens Advice Bureau.

Volunteering is also a great way to get out, keep busy and meet people. There are plenty of volunteering opportunities for all kinds of people – with varying abilities and experience. It’s great for mental and emotional wellbeing, as you feel you’re doing something good, helping out and giving something back. You can find details of volunteering programmes on do-it.org. 

Stay active

Keeping active and mobile as you age is crucial. Sometimes aches, pains and discomfort can discourage people from getting out and about – but staying immobile is in fact counterproductive.

Often remaining sitting down for long periods of time can have detrimental effects in the long-term for people of all ages – sometimes these are irreversible for the elderly. Without your mobility it’s hard to stay independent – so it’s a key concern for many facing old age.

Keeping active doesn’t have to mean going running or doing a triathlon. You just need to keep moving a little each day – and complement that with a class, group or activity you enjoy. This could be dancing, swimming, hiking, cycling – whatever you wish.

There are small things you can do daily to stay mobile – such as taking a short walk every day, or choosing the stairs once in a while. Remember that doing too much can also be dangerous – so ask for help when you need it and don’t be afraid to use mobility aids such as sticks and wheelchairs.

If you’re unsure where to start with physical activity, ask your GP or social worker who can help you to put together an action plan.

Eat well

It’s basic, but important. What we eat now can affect our health in the long-term – and it’s harder than ever before to know what’s healthy and to stick to a balanced diet.

Many don’t realise that malnutrition doesn’t just apply to people who are underweight – it can also affect people who are a healthy weight, or overweight. Malnutrition means you are not getting a good balance of the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to stay well.

This could occur because of crash dieting, a dependence on one particular food group, or a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. The advice is simple – make sure you are eating plenty of leafy greens and different coloured vegetables, and eat protein such as chicken, meat and fish in smaller quantities.

Balance each meal with a small amount of carbohydrates. Reserve processed foods, sugary and fatty products for special occasions.

Some meal supplements and vitamins are good for those who struggle to eat a balanced diet – but they shouldn’t be relied on. If you are struggling with your diet or find you often don’t have an appetite for full meals as a result of health issues, speak to your GP or nurse. They may be able to help you put together an eating plan, or refer you to a dietician.

Spend time brain training

As Dementia cases rise year on year, more emphasis is being placed on brain health. Often isolation and lack of stimulation can lead to unnecessary memory loss and confusion.

As above socialising, eating well and keeping active will be good for your brain – but you might like to take it a step further. Read regularly and do crosswords, number challenges or Sudoku every day. Playing logical games such as chess have also been shown to stimulate brain activity.

Accept help when it is needed

Many of us are proud and independent – and few people like to feel as though they are a burden. Yet failure to accept help early on – even for small things, such as shopping, getting about in the car and moving around the house – can have a detrimental long-term effect.

Injury and long-term ill health can be devastating as we age – so it’s vitally important to ask for and accept assistance when it’s needed. Early intervention can significantly improve the prognosis for many seemingly insignificant health issues – problems that are often seen as ‘just part of getting older’.

However there is no reason why you can’t live a long, healthy life – and getting older doesn’t have to mean losing your independence.