When your parents or grandparents reach a certain age, it’s natural that their ability to move will deteriorate. Or you might have a family member with a disability that affects mobility. This poses a series of challenges for the person with a disability, but also the entire household that needs to reorganize and adapt to support and help them. Families who want to support their relatives with mobility issues will face some obstacles, but with enough patience, knowledge, and love, it is possible to support your loved one, both physically and emotionally. Here are a few essential tips.
Start with an honest conversation
Discussing mobility issues is difficult, especially when the person in question is a parent who is experiencing a decline in physical fitness. They are used to taking care of you, and not vice versa. When things get out of their control, they will feel embarrassed and will find it difficult to admit they have problems.
Tackling this delicate topic requires understanding and listening skills. When broaching the subject, first ask how they’re feeling about the whole situation. Try not to use words such as “must,” but rather adopt a more suggestive tone to let them know you’re in this together, and that you’re there to come up with the best possible solution together. Express your concern, but without patronizing them. Always make sure to respect their wishes and privacy.
Provide need-based assistance
Depending on the degree of the disability, your relative will still want to have all the independence possible. So, first, you need to assess together the things that are no longer possible to do independently. Depending on your conclusion, you might need to give a hand with some of the household chores, doctor’s appointments, and similar things.
All of this implies that you should leave room for accomplishing some of the chores without you. For people who have limited strength in their arms and legs, it would be useful to choose between an electric wheelchair and mobility scooter to provide maximum maneuverability. This will enable your relative to vacuum (with a handheld cordless vacuum cleaner), do gardening on an elevated bed planter, use the dishwasher, and prep meals on a height-adjustable work surface. Empower them and encourage their independence by celebrating every milestone.
Adjust the house to the new circumstances
For someone with mobility issues, their home, which used to be the safest place in the world for them, will suddenly stop being that. All the things that were easily-reachable will be outside of their reach. But with a few adaptations, you can help them feel safe and enable them to navigate around their home again. Here are some common adaptations to make:
- Install motion-triggered lights around the house.
- Remove tripping hazards from the stairs.
- Put anti-slip mats in the kitchen and bathroom.
- Repair loose railings.
- Install a walk-in shower.
- Install grab bars in the bathroom.
- Put up a higher toilet.
- Install a wheelchair ramp in front of the house.
For people with disabilities, just like for any of us, it is difficult to ask for help. They’ll be more comfortable asking for your help if you are responsive to their requests. When your family member asks for some specific activity, be quick to respond (if you can, positively). Don’t make him/her feel guilty when asking for a favor. Be kind and full of understanding. By showing enthusiasm and care for their concerns, you’ll be reassuring your family member that they’re not burdening you when they ask for help.
Evaluate what you can and what you cannot do
Of course, pushing yourself too hard will only result in burning out and actually being able to do less than before. While you may offer emotional, physical, and financial help, the amount of it can be limited. Consider your financial limitations, your free time, and your emotional stability. Once you’re aware of your boundaries, discuss the topic with other family members and friends. See if they can contribute and help you out. Decide who the primary caregiver is and set up a schedule to operate on. Also, if finances are a problem, talk about setting up a fund to share the expenses.
Finally, don’t lose yourself in the process. Taking care of someone can be a significant physical and emotional challenge. It can be exhausting and threaten your health. And if not for yourself, you need to be healthy for the person you’re taking care of. So, do not neglect your friends, hobbies, job, and interests. Share your concerns with other close people. Eat well, get enough sleep, and be physically active. This is not selfish – it is essential.