For families committed to helping their aging relatives, TV host and author Joan Lunden says preparation is critical.
Robert Browning’s “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be,” is a poignant reminder that our senior years can be filled with joy. But as we age, there are often health issues and financial concerns. That’s why planning for the future is essential.
“Since my early 30s, I’d been in charge of the care of my aging mom and my brother, who suffered from the many complications of type 2 diabetes,” says Joan Lunden, author and the popular former co-host of Good Morning America. “When my brother died at the age of 57, my mom, who was then 88, was suffering from dementia, which became exponentially worse with the loss of her son. She couldn’t handle the daily tasks of living on her own.”
“I made a lot of mistakes finding the right senior care for my mother, since I didn’t know much about elder care or the needs that came with her increasing dementia. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have a plan in place. I made a vow to myself that I would work to help others be better prepared.”
Older individuals often wish to remain in their own homes, and many are capable of caring for themselves, but loneliness can be a real problem.
“Research shows that people with strong social networks, who spend time with friends and family, are more likely to live longer than people who are lonely,” says Lunden. “Social connections are one of the leading predictors of successful aging.”
According to Lunden, loneliness is comparable to the risk of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and exceeds the risk of alcohol consumption, obesity, and physical inactivity.
“There’s nothing that will accelerate decline more than isolation. What’s more, loneliness seems to pose the greatest risk for elderly people who are prone to depression.”
Lunden, a longtime spokesperson for a national senior care referral service, says it’s never been more important to find ways to stay connected to those who are aging in place.
“Facetime calls and Zoom sessions will allow your loved one to see you and feel the connection. It’s also more important than ever to impress upon them not to open their door to people. Set up a schedule to deliver to them food and other needs, and greet them with a smile, but not a hug.
“This pandemic is sure to change our world forever in terms of technology. It has become our sole source for staying connected and checking in on loved ones. I don’t think that any of us would have imagined the number of grandparents who would be Zooming with their grandkids. I foresee technology, especially telemedicine, making lives much more manageable in the future for people who are aging in place or who are homebound.”
Helping seniors during COVID-19
Lunden notes that, for the most part, senior living facilities have been able to safeguard their elderly residents by closing their doors to outsiders.
“While we all want to give our loved ones a hug, it has been for their safety that we all throw kisses #throughtheglass. Then, too, in senior communities around the country, it has become the norm for the health care workers to assist their residents on Zoom and FaceTime calls. I imagine this will become part of their daily life going forward.”
Lunden adds, “I know quite a few people who moved their older parents into a senior facility at the beginning of the pandemic, to ensure the safety of their health. As we move forward, safety will become even more essential, just as it will be in medical offices everywhere. New protocols most certainly will be put into place in senior communities and elsewhere.”