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How to support older parents to stay independent

Mar 03, 2019

It’s natural to have concerns about your parents’ health and wellbeing as they get older. Many people struggle to know how to stay independent in old age, and millions of grown-up children across the UK are caring for their parents.

Fortunately, there are some fairly straightforward steps you can take that may make it easier for your parents to stay independent at home.

Help with housework and gardening

Sometimes it can be hard to keep on top of all the cleaning and gardening that comes with owning a home. Your parents may not be as mobile as they once were or perhaps they don't have the mental capacity and energy to keep up with all their chores.  

It’s important to look out for signs that your parents are struggling with these tasks. For example, is the house dirtier or more cluttered than usual, or are weeds being ignored in the garden? You can help them by making sure their house is cleaned and their garden tended to. Perhaps you could arrange a cleaning and gardening rota between family and friends to help your parents stay on top of these jobs.

There are also ways for people to make gardening easier as they get older.

Make sure they have transportation

As your parents get older, it may not be suitable or safe for them to drive themselves anymore. It's reassuring to know they have transportation should they need it. This could be in the form of a local bus, a trusted taxi service or a helpful friend.  

Bear in mind that people living in England are eligible for a bus pass for free travel when they reach the female state pension age. This applies whether they are a man or a woman. Those living in London can travel free on buses and tubes within the city from the age of 60, and people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can also travel on buses for free from 60 onwards.

You can find out more about these concessions here.

Having access to safe transport offers a sense of freedom and it means your parents can still travel at their leisure with the help of others.

Be contactable

It’s vital that your parents can contact you if they need to. You may well be the first person they call if they need help. With this in mind, make sure they have a mobile phone with good battery life and enough minutes to make calls. You can see recommendations for phones here.

In case of emergencies, you should also make sure your phone is always on ring or vibrate so that you don’t miss a call. It's a good idea to have a backup number for your parents to call if they need help and can’t reach you. This could be a neighbour, family friend or an adult grandchild. 

Age UK Personal Alarms

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Make sure their home is safe and accessible

There might be a number of changes you can make to your parents’ home to ensure it’s a safer environment. For example, you can add handrails in the shower to reduce the risk of them slipping when getting in and out. Also, try moving regularly used kitchen items, such as plates and mugs, to cupboards that are easier to reach. This seemingly small change can make a big difference. It’s also important to check any rugs and make sure they're secured and don't pose a slip or trip hazard.

Think about improving lighting in certain areas too. For example, you might decide to improve the lighting in the hallway and add a light to an outside route that people use when emptying the bins.

Support them with their cooking

If your parents are still confident in the kitchen, it’s much easier for them to live independently. To help ensure they’re still able to prepare and cook meals for themselves, here are some tips to make these tasks easier. This includes making simple meals with fewer ingredients, including pasta dishes, soups and salads. You could also assist by preparing meals for your parents that can be frozen and reheated.

Personal alarms

Personal alarms can give both you and your parents a much greater sense of reassurance. These devices offer 24/7 aid, providing emergency service assistance in case of falls or accidents. Age UK's Personal Alarms have been praised for helping to keep older people independent. They are there for those "just in case" moments.

Be there emotionally

Let your parents know you are there to help with their emotional needs. It's important to be contactable over the phone, but are you emotionally available for your parents? As we get older, we become more dependent on others, which can feel unsettling. This means it's good to let your parents know you are there for them to talk to. You could also suggest that it may be helpful for them to speak to others. A good idea is to encourage socialising with friends. Doing some volunteering or learning a new skill are both great ways to meet new people. It's vital to encourage your parents to remain as active and social as possible. This will benefit both their mental and physical health.

Age UK Personal Alarms

Find out more


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