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Support Systems For The Elderly

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Support systems benefit older adults who are aging in place. Many seniors are alone and isolated. They need social connections, along with food, transportation, and other support services.

A national poll conducted by the University of Michigan revealed that, in the United States, about 34 percent of people ages 50 to 80 years old experience a lack of companionship. Their research shows that a little more than 1 in 4 respondents only had social contact with adult children, other family members, or friends once a week or less.

It’s very important for older people (for everyone really) to create and maintain support systems, though. 

Having a social network has a positive effect on a person’s quality of life by providing emotional support, increasing physical health and longevity, and contributing to more positive mental health. Sometimes a support system can even help elderly people age in place in their own homes for longer by providing specific resources.

The problem with elderly parents and seniors in general, however, is that often the members of their support system pass away, leaving them struggling to find new ones.

I can remember my own grandmother telling me how lonely she was during the last years of her life because her social activities basically came to a halt once her siblings and friends died.

That’s why it’s extremely important to diversify your social interactions and to continuously be adding new friends, acquaintances, etc. to your circle. This takes time and work and many older Americans aren’t even sure how to go about it.

Building A Social Network While Aging In Place

The first thing to do is to take the helm and keep in touch with your current support system. Don’t wait for phone calls from them – you can call them! I used to tell my father that the phone worked both ways when he would complain that he hadn’t heard from a certain relative or friend in awhile.

Reach out! Do things like sending out greeting cards, calling friends to keep in touch, inviting them to meet (or come by) for coffee, a movie, etc.

Next, you need to enlarge this peer support system by adding new people. Some ways to encourage getting out there and meeting new people are:

  • Volunteering – volunteer for something that you believe in like a children’s organization, an animal shelter, etc. Americorps.gov has programs that you can join.
  • Religious community – get involved in your church, temple, or other religious community
  • Learn something new – find courses that you can take. Many colleges and universities offer free or low cost classes designed for senior citizens. You (or your aging parents) might look for courses in learning how to use your cell phone or a computer, classes in art, ceramics, or painting, courses in history, etc.
  • Host a weekly event with neighbors – whether it’s a luncheon, a morning coffee, a Friday cocktail hour – do something weekly with your neighbors.
  • Work part time – working part time at a gift shop, coffee house, library, etc. Anything that gets you out and gives you a sense of purpose.
  • Mentor – use personal experiences to become a mentor to one or several people. Educate them about your profession, teach young newlyweds how to cook nutritious food, teach about home repair, etc.
  • Start or join a club – this can be a movie club, book club, quilting club, card game club, etc. Even if it’s an online club like Elder Orphans. This Facebook group is restricted to group members over 55 who live without the help of a spouse, partner, and children.
  • Zoom – join a virtual club like a book club.
  • Video chats – use tools like Facetime on your mobile phones or Amazon’s Echo Show to video chat with others, join self-help groups, take classes, etc.
  • Check out the activities provided by local senior centers– family caregivers can look for caregiver support groups online or through local chapters of various special needs or health conditions (health professionals and social workers can aid in this). For example, informal caregivers of an aging parent with Alzheimer’s disease can visit the Alzheimer’s Association website to find support groups (as well as general information about supportive services) in their zip code.

Aging In Place Delivery Services

Along with social support, people who are aging in place often need delivery services, along with other informal support services:

Transportation

If you can’t drive, then its important to seek out services like Uber or Lyft or another shareride service to get to medical care, events where your friends are, or where local support groups meet.

Food and Meals

There are multiple ways that seniors or their caregivers can get food delivered right to their front door (or back door if that’s better).

  1. Grocery delivery – these days companies like Instacart and ShipT can do the shopping for you and bring your groceries to your door. I personally use ShipT and have had a very good experience with them. The beauty of these programs is that they shop the local stores in your area so it’s not as if they are tied to a specific store, which is great.
  2. Restaurant food delivery – there are of course restaurants that deliver but there are also services that can pick up your food orders from restaurants and deliver them to you as well. Companies such as GrubHub, UberEats and Postmates. These are great if you want to get food from specific restaurants that may not offer their own delivery services.
  3. Ready Made or Ready To Cook Meals delivery – There are many new companies that provide ready made meals or kits with all the ingredients you need to prepare a meal. Companies such as Freshly and Purple Carrot, just to name two of them.
  4. Another company specifically for seniors is Silver Cuisine which caters to the special diets that many older adults follow.

Alcohol

But what if you enjoy a glass of wine or a martini with dinner? Can you get alcohol delivered?

There are two companies that I found that can provide that service.

  1. Drizly – like any other online service, you put in your order online for beer, wine and/or liquor (as well as some extras) and the order will come to you. They are available in many areas throughout the USA and in Alberta, Canada but they are certainly not available everywhere. You can see a list of the cities and states that they are servicing here.
  2. Saucey – another online liquor delivery service that again has a limited geography within the USA. They provide a list of locations they service at the bottom of their website.

Overall, if you happen to live in the cities that are serviced by either one of these companies – then you are fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of this service, if you need it.

Clothing

There are two services that I found that you may find useful:

  1. StitchFix – this is billed as a personal styling service that provides clothing for maternity, petite, plus sizes, etc. It has received many wonderful reviews and it can certainly be an option for anyone who wants to shop online with the aid of a personal styler!
  2. Gwynnie Bee – this company provides clothing for women sizes 0 to 32 and it’s a clothing rental service! This means that you can wear the clothing for as long as you like and then when you don’t want it any longer – you simply ship it back to them!

Medicine

Yes, your local pharmacy such as Walgreens or CVS (at least here in the USA) does deliver medications so if you have your prescriptions already there, with them, then I would encourage you to sign up and use their delivery services.

But, there are also other options available to you. The three that I found are:

  1. Amazon’s PillPack – the unique thing about PillPack is that you get your medications delivered in individual packets that are labeled according to when they need to be taken. So, you would receive packets of the medications that you need to take at 8:00 am and then other packets with the meds you need to take at 6:00 pm (as an example). I very much like this concept because it eliminates any guesswork which is great for seniors who may have some cognitive deficits.
  2. ZipDrug – the concept behind ZipDrug is that they connect their users to the “highest quality and lowest cost local pharmacies that deliver directly to patients at home.” It’s similar to companies such as Instacart and ShipT except it’s specifically for bringing medications to patients from pharmacies.
  3. YouDrugstore.com – is an online Canadian pharmacy that allows you to order online by phone by mail or even by fax. Because it’s a Canadian pharmacy your medications may cost much less than they do here in the USA.

Miscellaneous

There are also some other unique home delivery services for other products and services. Here are three types of services that I thought would be useful for homebound seniors.

  1. TaskRabbit – this unique company has an army of independent contractors who can provide a variety of services such as running errands, help with moving, assembling furniture, cleaning and much more. For older adults and their caregivers, this type of company could be a great resource.
  2. MobileOilChanges.com – there is a service that I found in North Carolina that will do some auto maintenance such as oil changes, tire rotations, multi-point inspections, etc. wherever your car is located. So, you don’t have to bring it in to the shop! Unfortunately it’s currently only in NC but perhaps in today’s and future economy this type of service will grow to other locations.

Conclusion

Aging at home should be a safe haven for seniors, but for many it is an isolating experience. This is often due to the death of friends and family members, a lack of social support, and the need for other support services if they are homebound. With a little creativity and effort, though, the elderly can build their social network and continue enjoyable daily activities for a long time to come.

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