How caregivers support mental health when working with seniors

Mental health is critically important at any age, but seniors face a specific set of obstacles to wellness—particularly if they live alone. An extensive survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 2016 indicated that over 1.4 million elderly individuals in Canada reported having feelings of loneliness and isolation. In response to this research, psychologist Ami Rokach was quoted by the CBC as saying, “​​People who are 80 years and older say that up to 80 per cent of the time they feel lonely — it’s a major problem.”

The same CBC article included the following revelation:

Loneliness itself doesn’t directly cause health problems but Rokach explains that depression, desperation, feeling unappreciated and unwanted can cause seniors to neglect their health or resort to unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, drinking or not taking their medication…beyond depression and general psychological distress, health issues such as hypertension, sleep disturbances, and even dementia are worse when someone is lonely.

Additional research indicates that there is a serious connection between isolation and quality of life, including physical health. As one report notes:

Isolated seniors are more prone to serious illnesses like chronic lung disease, arthritis, and impaired mobility…Loneliness can also cause seniors to spend more time indoors and avoid physical activity. This lack of exercise can lead to increased rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and other issues.

As serious as all of this sounds, it’s actually even more concerning today. This research and reporting was done before the pandemic, which exacerbated the situation by creating even more isolation among seniors.

What you can do to help loved ones thrive as they age

Isolation is a bigger threat to the well-being of elderly Canadians than alcoholism, obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That said, congregate living isn’t for everyone and in many cases, seniors who live in group settings feel just as lonely as those living independently. So how do we support our aging loved ones in order to protect their physical, cognitive and emotional health?

The answer is joyful companionship: quality time spent talking and sharing stories, playing cards or board games, going on walks or running errands, or perhaps simply enjoying a cup of tea together. It’s kindness, connection and laughter. While family members may provide this type of companionship during visits, it’s often not enough. Younger family members have jobs and children to attend to, making it hard to provide consistent companionship to aging loved ones. This is why Living Assistance Services offers joyful companionship as part of our comprehensive service offering. Our Personal Support Workers (PSWs) are available to provide supplementary care and support to seniors, whether they live independently in their own home or within a retirement or nursing facility.

Every senior’s needs are different—introverted individuals may prefer quiet companionship in their home while more extroverted seniors enjoy chatting up a storm. Our caregivers let each client take the lead, providing companionship that reflects their personality and comfort level. And naturally, our caregivers will also take care of your loved one’s personal care needs as well as handling meal preparation or light housekeeping duties. It’s one-on-one support on all levels, delivered with compassion and respect.

Contact us to learn more about in-home caregiver services

Wellness is something everyone deserves regardless of age and stage of life, and one thing is clear: isolation is hurting seniors. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be this way. Between the love and care of family members and the support of a dedicated PSW from Living Assistance Services in Toronto and the GTA, your aging loved one can avoid isolation and enjoy strong, healthy relationships that improve their quality of life.

To learn more about in-home caregiver services in Toronto and the surrounding areas, please contact us 24/7. We’d be pleased to offer a personalized consultation at no cost to you.

How a PSW can help seniors attend appointments and run errands safely

Medical appointments are a fact of life and as we age, they typically become more frequent. Seniors often deal with a number of different medical personnel based in different locations: their family doctor, an eye doctor or hearing specialist, and others like a geriatrician, Diabetes specialist or foot clinic. If your loved one has chronic pain or neurological issues such as Parkinson’s Disease or dementia, they may see a doctor even more frequently. It can be hard to keep up!

While family members often step in to help take seniors to medical appointments, it can be challenging for some individuals to take time off work or travel from out of town to provide support. Fortunately, there are other options for seniors who require assistance. Here’s how a dedicated Personal Support Worker (PSW) from Living Assistance Services can help.

Helping seniors stay on top of their health

Many of our caregivers are able to drive seniors to and from their medical appointments. In some cases, they may accompany your loved one using a cab or other transportation service. In either case, they’ll ensure that your loved one arrives safely and on time, being attentive to falling hazards or other risks related to decreased mobility. If your loved one is  sent for follow-up care such as blood work or an MRI, our PSWs will continue to provide one-one-one assistance. Our caregivers are also able to sit in on doctor’s appointments upon request, and may take notes to share with family members later on. This is all done with the senior’s explicit permission and comfort. (Alternatively, caregivers may remain in the waiting room during medical appointments—whatever is preferred.)

By having our PSWs help your loved one attend medical appointments, it enables them to stay on top of the healthcare needs. No more missing or delaying appointments while you figure out which family member can drive them that day—it will all be taken care of so the next time you visit your loved one, you can focus on quality time instead of logistics. 

Fresh air and fun

Accompanying seniors on errands doesn’t just involve medical care. Many of our clients want to go shopping or run errands for pleasure. This may include a trip to the mall or a favourite store, or a walk to a local bakery. In any case, our caregivers can accompany them and provide support as needed. This is both practical and a form of joyful companionship, which is of great benefit to seniors.

Finally, it can be great to simply get outside and enjoy a walk in the park. Our PSWs are able to accompany seniors on walks or take them outdoors using mobility devices such as walkers or wheelchairs. This allows seniors to enjoy a change of scenery while getting gentle exercise, helping them feel physically and mentally well. Fresh air and sunshine are important, as is supporting mental health. Getting outside is possible in any season, and with the support of a caregiver, it can be done safely and on a regular basis.

Please contact us to learn more

If you’re interested in learning more about in-home caregiver services in the Toronto and Greater Toronto areas, please contact us. We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have and offer personalized recommendations. Our team is dedicated to helping seniors live safely and independently in their own homes, and would be pleased to hear from you.

Meal planning and make-ahead meal ideas for seniors

As individuals age, they may struggle with cooking or simply lose the motivation to prepare three healthy, balanced meals each day. Other seniors find their appetites dwindling over time and might make a piece of toast instead of a full lunch or dinner. While it’s okay if this happens occasionally, seniors need proper nutrition to stay healthy and maintain their energy. Stocking the fridge properly is key, and make-ahead meals are excellent if you’re doing the cooking for your loved one. Remember, you don’t need to do all of the work yourself—our PSWs are available to help with both cooking and reheating/serving meals as needed. When appropriate, our PSWs can also serve a meal and leave another in the fridge to be warmed up later.

Here are some ideas to inspire your next grocery list and make-ahead suggestions to help your loved ones enjoy healthy, hearty meals at home.

First, invest in some small glass storage containers

When you batch cook or prepare meals ahead of time, you need some great storage solutions. The ideal container will hold a single portion and is microwave and/or freezer safe. We recommend glass because it often meets this criteria while being environmentally-friendly and clear (which means you’ll never have to guess what mystery food is stored in the freezer). You can use glass storage containers for everything from soups, salads and sandwiches to servings or chili or a portion of chicken and vegetables. 

But don’t just use them for freezer meals. If you chop up fruit or vegetables or make a tasty chia pudding or yogurt parfait, your loved one will have an easy, healthy snack to grab whenever they’re feeling peckish. Mason jars are great for this purpose as well!

Consider their dietary needs and preferences

If you’re cooking for an aging family member or leaving instructions for one of our PSWs or another family caregiver, there are two main things to consider: what type of nutrition does your loved one need to thrive, and what do they enjoy eating?

Prepared meals are only useful if they get eaten, so both points are equally important. Here’s a list of diabetic-friendly soup recipes and some diabetic-friendly recipes that freeze well. Fortunately, there are plenty of cook books and recipe websites to browse as you’re finding the right dishes for your family.

Seniors often prefer comfort foods and traditional meals—think casseroles, stews, soups or meat and potatoes. That said, if you aren’t sure what they enjoy eating, just ask! You may be surprised to find out what their culinary likes and dislikes are.

Cook in batches and think about freezing

If you cook up a big batch of your loved one’s favourite meal, you can portion it out and pop it into the freezer until they feel like another helping. If you do this a few times, they’ll have several options to choose from as needed. Be sure to label everything clearly and record the date it was made! Here’s a great collection of recipes to get you started. Remember: soups, stews, chili, curries, quiches and casseroles tend to freeze and reheat well.

Make mealtime (and snacks) fast, easy and nutritious

Many seniors are happy with a simple sandwich at lunchtime, so consider making a batch of egg salad, chicken salad or a similar option like salmon salad or deviled ham. Keep it in one of those clear glass containers so it’s readily available and top of mind. If deli meats are preferred, keep those on hand throughout the week. If you make sure your loved one also has some bread and fresh lettuce available, they’ll be able to prepare an appealing and hearty lunch in minutes. Remember, our caregivers are able to prepare meals and would be happy to make a batch of egg salad or prepare sandwiches.

Consider keeping hummus and sliced vegetables on hand along with cheese, crackers and fruit. A senior (or their caregiver) can produce a quick and healthy lunch by putting together odds and ends from a carefully curated, nutrient-packed grocery list.

Homemade banana, carrot or bran muffins make an easy snack, as do bananas, nuts and trail mix, and full fat varieties of Greek yogurt. If you keep sliced berries in the fridge, they can be enjoyed as a snack or added to a bowl of yogurt, oatmeal or cereal. The secret is to find out what works best for your loved one and build food routines around that. The seniors in your life will be thankful (and feeling great).

What are ADLs and how can in-home caregivers support them?

If you have aging loved ones, you may have heard the term “ADLs” used by healthcare professionals, particularly if a medical or cognitive assessment was involved. This acronym refers to Activities of Daily Living — relatively simple things we all do every day such as bathing, brushing our teeth or getting dressed.

As people grow older, they may begin to require increasing levels of support with common tasks. Here’s a closer look at what ADLs are and how a Personal Support Worker (PSW) can help seniors live safely and independently at home for longer.

What is an Activity of Daily Living?

Activities of Daily Living include basic personal care and other functions that are required for everyday life. This includes the following:

  • Personal hygiene: bathing, washing hair, oral care, nail care, etc.
  • Dressing: choosing weather-appropriate clothing and shoes, selecting clothing that is appropriate for various settings, physically putting on those clothes.
  • Toileting: also referred to as continence management, this refers to the physical and cognitive ability to properly use the washroom.
  • Feeding: eating and drinking, either with or without assistance.
  • Mobility and ambulation: being able to change position in bed or while seated, and possessing the ability to stand and walk independently.

Many seniors can do some of these things independently but struggle with one or two specific issues. They may also have anxiety about an activity such as bathing due to the risk of falling in the tub or shower. If anxiety prevents someone from bathing or causes them to bathe less frequently, it would mean they’re struggling with this ADL.

Understanding IADLs and a senior’s ability to thrive

ADLs cover the basic functions required to live independently, but they don’t cover additional abilities required to thrive. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are a secondary group of critical skills including the ability to drive or take public transportation without assistance, shop for groceries and prepare meals, manage finances and the responsibilities of a household, and manage medications. IADLs also include communication skills and functions related to mental health. 

When ADLs or IADLs become an issue for seniors, family members often step in to help. However, as more care is required, the level of care needed may exceed what a family can offer. This is particularly true if family caregivers are working full-time or have young children at home. Often referred to as the Sandwich Generation, they have a double burden of care and simply cannot do it all.

How Living Assistance Services can help support seniors at home

Getting support for a loved one shouldn’t be a source of hesitation or shame—instead, be glad you’re able to offer them compassionate, comprehensive care. Living Assistance Services works with skilled, dedicated Personal Care Workers (PSWs) to provide in-home care for seniors and other individuals requiring assistance. This includes supporting ADLs as well as IADLs and offering joyful companionship to support emotional well-being and mental health.

We don’t just work with seniors who require long-term support. Living Assistance Services can provide personal care on a temporary basis if respite or convalescent care is required. Our caregivers are also available to provide supplementary care in retirement homes and long-term care facilities as well as hospitals. 

Your loved ones deserve autonomy, independent living conditions and exceptional support. To view a full list of homecare services and Living Assistance Services locations across the greater Toronto area, please explore our website. If you think our PSWs may be a good fit for your family, please contact us—we’d be pleased to offer a no obligation personalised consultation.