Independent Home Living Ideas for Your Elderly Loved Ones

Welcome to Irisada’s blog. We focus on solutions for families living with differently abled – loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

As our family members age, their needs can change. To help them live life to the fullest, small adaptations to their everyday surroundings can go a long way. As we recently discussed activities for independent senior citizens, today we’ll be talking about how to adapt their physical and digital surrounding to their needs.

Adapting Their Physical Surroundings

Some doctors estimate that every year, one in three senior citizens suffers a fall at home. Not only can these falls be dangerous, they are avoidable. First, you’ll want to make sure to limit risks of tripping over wires, furniture and clutter, or having to reach too high in cupboards.

Specialists also advise making sure there is enough bright lighting, as darker places, especially stairs, can become dangerous. An 85-year old typically needs three times more light to see the same thing as a 15-year old, so don’t be afraid to deck the house with lights!

Making Bathrooms Secure And Everyday Hygiene Easy

If your older family member has mobility issues, you might want to adapt some of the rooms. Bathrooms tend to be especially tricky. Simply adding grab bars or a shower seat will make their daily routine safer and more relaxed.

You can go even further by making sure the shower enclosure is easy to access (no step, for example) or considering installing a wet floor shower. Since floors are sometimes slippery, nonslip mats or treating the floor with a nonslip solution can make bathrooms (and also kitchens and porches) less risky.

An example of an accessible bathroom. Photo credit: Walk in Showers and Baths Ltd, UK

For caregivers of elderly with very reduced mobility, consider investing in accessories that allow them to avoid the bathroom entirely. For example, an inflatable hair washbasin could be a good place to start. Your loved one will get all the benefits and freshness of a hair wash, without the inconvenience of being transferred to the bathroom.

Last but not least: toilet seats. Getting up and off the toilet can be tricky, which is why it’s advisable to have a higher toilet seat with armrests. You’ll probably want professional help for those kinds of installations.

Other Solutions For Everyday Inconveniences Around the House

Steps and stairs get increasingly awkward. Perhaps your elder could benefit from adding ramps in places where there are steps. You can also install a stairlift or additional railings to stairs in the house, depending on space and feasibility.

But if mobility is a real problem, maybe living on one floor would be safer and allow your loved one to stay independent longer. And though many people dislike the idea of using a walker, having one handy at home can help move around all day with minimal risk.

Many elderly people find getting up and out of bed (or a chair) harder. You can install railings and hoists or ropes to beds to help solve morning issues and buy rising or reclining chairs for the living room. Or if rising chairs are too much of an investment, consider rising assist cushions.

An example of seating assistance in action. The portable pillow cushions the fall when sitting down and assists the lift when standing back up. (Photo credit: Carex)

Last but not least, quite a few personal care products have been adapted for older citizens: nail clippers with magnifiers, zipper aids, shoe and sock aids, to name a few. Don’t forget small adaptations can go a long way, like clocks with bigger numbers, or vibrating alarms for those who are hard of hearing.

Using Technology to Stay Safe and Enjoy Life

Not all adaptations are physical: everyday technology can come in handy since many of today’s elderly people are connected. In fact, some of them actually still have a thirst for technology. And that’s great, first and foremost to stay in touch, as avoiding social isolation is vital to stay psychologically healthy. Simply installing and explaining Skype, Facebook or Whatsapp could make a big difference.

Some of our favourite apps come connected to physical objects, like this app that comes with the Smart Pill Box and keeps track of medication.  Other great apps include Fall Detector, which has a self-explanatory name, and Sudoku or game apps.  We like them because they encompass three aspects of life: keeping track of health, alerting loved ones if something happens, and of course, having fun. 

We hope this article helps with adapting your loved ones home and phone! Remember to send us your comments and suggestions.

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How To Spend Time with Your Loved Ones If Dementia Settles In

Welcome to Irisada’s blog. We focus on solutions for families living with differently abled – loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

Recently, we’ve been focussing on activities and lifestyle adaptations for elderly citizen’s. Today we’re going to talk about a more sensitive subject: how to spend time with a loved one suffering from dementia.

Warning Signs That Your Independent Elder Needs More Help

Many families struggle with this development. When an active and independent loved one shows signs of no longer being able to take care of themselves, it’s incredibly difficult to determine just how much help they need. And understandably, most elders want to stay in their own home as long as possible, which makes the subject even more sensitive.

It can be hard to figure out exactly how much help your elder needs. (photo credit: Pixabay)

Generally speaking, there’s no absolute rule, especially if your elder doesn’t suffer from a specific medical condition. We found this great guide, (provide your email to download) by Leslie Kernisan, a practising geriatrician. It helps you evaluate what part of your elder’s lifestyle or health might be problematic, and identify suitable courses of action, as well as conversation starters. Thus you can really talk about solutions to specific questions, rather than just tell your loved one that you are “worried”, which might sound too vague from their standpoint.

Calibrating Activities for Elders With Dementia Like Conditions

The important and over-arching rule is to find failure-free activities as satisfaction stems more easily from doing than from an intended outcome. Just because a person has aged and changed, doesn’t mean they don’t need to cultivate their sense of self-worth. In turn, spending time in engaging and satisfying activities limits anxiety, stress and sundowning behaviour. The virtuous cycle helps with everyday life and might even slow the progress of the illness.

Before moving on to examples of activities for people with dementia-like conditions, we’d like to share this Ted Talk by Alanna Shaikh. We like the empathetic and relatable way Shaikh explains dementia (in this case Alzheimer’s disease).

 

What stands out is how many activities have been struck off the list, and the need to find extremely simple, hands-on alternatives.

Examples of No-Fail, Fun Activities For People with Dementia-Like Conditions

Everyone is different, so you’ll want to calibrate these activities according to your elder’s tastes.

In the early stages, your elder might still enjoy playing cards, like memory games or solitaire. They might enjoy Hua Hee, a memory card game specially developed for ageing family members. If your elder still wants to play their regular games, cards with bigger numbers will be easier to read.

An example of a memory box (photo credit: Home Instead)

If they still like looking at old souvenirs or special mementoes, you could make a memory box to rummage through or try this talking photo album, which helps your loved ones recall the memories in the pictures. Jewellery boxes also often have similar functions, though sometimes the memories – or lack thereof – can be overwhelming. You’ll also find that sensory activities help bring back memories, by activating their sense of smell or touch.

Some elders derive satisfaction from activities resembling household chores. You might find they love sorting cutlery, or folding towels and clothes. They will feel like they are doing something worthwhile. And at the same time, they can’t really fail these activities. Some will even enjoy cutting out coupons, for example. This means they have to be safe with scissors, so keep an eye out!

Remember, you can stay creative with your activities: make a (simple) puzzle that represents a special place, set up arts and crafts activities, create themed boxes with fabrics or materials. You know your elder best!

More links and ideas here:
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Tips for Travelling with a Wheelchair

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. We’ve chosen a slight variation this week, as the festive season approaches: travelling with a family member with limited mobility.

The festive season is almost upon us! Off we will go to those end of year get-togethers, where we’ll eat copious meals and of course, give and receive gifts. We will probably spend hours in transport to get there, alongside hundreds of millions of people around the world.  At Irisada, we wondered: how do families with wheelchair users cope?

We spoke with Pascale and Hervé, whose experience of physical disability is relatively recent. Hervé suffered a stroke four years ago and is now hemiplegic, with slowed mobility and frequent wheelchair use.

Ensuring the Destination is Accessible

Pascale is in charge of logistics. Her motto is to always prepare for whatever might go wrong. “Whenever we travel, book a room or even visit friends, my first thought is to understand if Hervé will be comfortable and able to move around. I always look at photos, and often call for more information,” says Pascal. The obvious reason, being to confirm how accessible the destination really is, the second being to limit the unknowns in the equation. “We can’t improvise anymore – unless we already know what might be problematic.”

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It’s not always easy to find accessible bathrooms

“When renting, the most important rooms to look at are definitely the bathroom and the bedroom,” she explains. “The bathroom is the scariest place for people who aren’t steady on their feet. Especially when the floor is wet.” So Pascale always makes sure there’s enough space for Hervé to walk around comfortably, or even use his chair if he needs to. They also bring their own material: the invaluable shower stool, a portable shower bench, shower mats and a couple of suction grab bars for the shower.

As for the bedroom, the couple is most vigilant about how the bed is placed in the room. It can’t be too close to the wall, and height can be an issue.  “We recently travelled abroad, and found ourselves confronted with an unusually high bed, which was a big problem.” Hervé wasn’t as autonomous in those conditions, so they’ll be on the watch in the future. As they like to have breakfast in bed and Hervé spends a lot of time reading, they also bring an Invacare Backrest so he can sit up.

Choosing the Right Mode of Transport

So far the couple has tested travelling by car, train and plane. “At first we would only travel by car,” says Pascale, “because we felt more autonomous.” The first few trips were long, perhaps even too long. “I remember once we crossed the border and couldn’t find a place to stop for Hervé to use a bathroom. That was unnecessarily stressful.” They have got better at evaluating how long they can drive without wearing Hervé out. For them, driving is still the most convenient mode of transportation.

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Quan Peng’s inspiring travel story has been picked up in China (for more, see links section)

“We’ve only flown once since Hervé’s stroke,” says Pascale, “and it was not a satisfying experience.” The small awkward spaces, lack of adjustable seating and overall poor organisation did not make them eager to fly again. “I suppose we’ll try again in the future, but it will require more organisation.” Meanwhile, taking the train can be either a smooth ride or a bit of a fiasco. “So far”, says Pascale, “the TGV service in France has been amazing, but in the only other country we’ve taken the train, customer service was less than average.”

Making the Most of the Celebration

Once you get to your party or your holiday home and the room is buzzing with chatter, how do you make the most of the celebration? Both mentioned that in his case, he tires faster in noisy environments. Moreover, Hervé prefers to stand than sit in public, which is also physically tiring. “I like to know there’s a quiet place he can retreat to if it becomes too much,” adds Pascale.

One reason Hervé stands is to maintain eye contact and connect more. “When I sit, I prefer people to come down to my level – sit or bend – so I can see their faces,” says Hervé. “But if I’m in my chair, I don’t want my disabilities to become the centre of all my conversations.” Little things count.

Generally speaking, Hervé is conscious that his social interactions are still distorted by his handicap. “Sometimes people want to give me a hand, but they don’t know how, and that can stress me out,” he says. If a friend or stranger tries to help by holding his immobile side, they will unbalance Hervé. “It’s difficult to ask someone not to help you, or to do it some other way.” Similarly, he needs to draw a line. “Often I’ll say that I don’t need assistance with a certain task because otherwise, I’ll regress!”

And in the end, surrounded by family and friends, his stress and preoccupations evaporate. Good food, loving people and fun gifts have a way of doing that.

Additional Links

Looking for some of our sources? Here are a few we browed on the web. You can send us more by commenting below:

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Funding Campaign – The Interstellar Board Game for the Blind

Every month we focus on parents bringing up a child with a different learning path. This month we’ll be looking at what parents and specialists have to say on raising children who are blind or have conditions related to vision impairments.

October 12th is International Sight Day, so at Irisada, we thought it would be a great month to highlight cool products and causes around blindness. We’re kicking off the October with a very special fundraising campaign to support Interstellar Fantasy Flight, a unique board game designed especially for blind kids. I interviewed the creator and designer of the game, Annie (佳芝), to learn more.

Stage 1: Early Years and The Realisation  

20901654_2071918266363334_2670588857863537285_oAnnie is currently a PhD student at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, majoring in Design. “I first got involved with blind children and their families in high school”, she says. “After I started volunteering, I gradually came to understand how being blind affected their lives and education.” She realised that blind children are missing out a seemingly small aspect of childhood: board games.

Yet from an educational and social point of view, they were losing much more than just the opportunity to play. As we’ve mentioned again and again and again, play is an integral part of learning. So Annie started applying her design knowledge to their specific needs. First she made a dice with bold braille numbers, which turned out well.

Then she realised that she could make a whole new game from scratch. So she set about creating something new, with two objectives in mind: 1) fun, of course, and 2) helping children acquire new skills. “At first I wondered if we should focus on the fun aspect, but their passion for knowledge touched us, and gave us the motivation to improve their education.”

Stage 2: Designing Interstellar Fantasy Flight 

Annie started working on a concept game to help blind children develop numerical skills: counting, adding, subtracting and other basic maths. “Contrary to seeing kids, they have less opportunity to familiarise themselves with these concepts, and more importantly, they can only access them through touching,” she says.

A brand new game was born: Interstellar Fantasy Flight

A brand new game was born: Interstellar Fantasy Flight

At the same time, Annie wanted the game to be social and inclusive. “We designed the game to be played with their parents and their seeing friends”, she says, “so that it creates a social moment all together.” It’s also based on a theme that all children can relate to, interspace and spaceships, which gets their imagination fired up, and is very cool to them.

So now you’re wondering: how does it work? The aim of the game is to build a space craft. To do so, each player needs to collect a certain number of ores, which are represented by different shaped pieces (round, square, pentagon etc.). To get each piece, they need to randomly pick a ball from a jar. The balls have numbers on them (in braille) and the kids then perform basic maths problems. Players take turns, and the first player to complete their space ship wins.

A glimpse of the space ships and ores

A glimpse of the spaceships and ores

“It took about eight months to make and test the game. We’ve tested it multiple times and about 30 people (seeing, blind, adult or child) have already played” Annie reflects. The tests take place in two Taiwanese schools for the visually impaired and so far the feedback from children and parents is very positive.

Stage 3: Production and Distribution

Interstellar Fantasy Flight is now ready to be produced and distributed. This is where Irisada and our readers come into play. We at Irisada are always on the look out for products that will appeal to children with different learning needs, and this game stood out.

We’ve teamed up with Annie to help her raise funds to pay for the first batch of production and to give the game to specialised schools and institutions in Taiwan. The game is also available to pre-order on our site. If you’d like to lend a hand, you can access the crowdfunding campaign here, and if you’d like to have your own game, you can pre-order it here.

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Playing with Children on the Spectrum: Developing Faculties and Playtime

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. This month we’ll be looking at what parents and specialists have to say on raising children on the autism spectrum. Previously we wrote about the diagnosis stage here and helping parents here.

All parents know that play is fundamental in a child’s development, be they neuro-typical or facing specific challenges. But playtime is also a unique moment to interact with your child and create bonds. We spoke to Delia Yeo, a speech and language therapist, and Ladislas de Toldi, co-founder of Leka, to know more about how play can help children on the autism spectrum develop skills and bond.

Playing and Engaging with People

Games stimulate and motivate children, through fun and the desire to win. Yet both experts stress that children on the spectrum often have difficulty engaging with playmates, remembering  rules or using all the concepts necessary to win.

Therapists like Delia “look at several aspects of how the child plays to understand how he or she understands the world”. Like an alternative mapping, Delia is able to identify what types of play are easy, which ones are hard. She chooses specific types of games accordingly centred on internal feelings, external sensations, sitting, physical activity, etc.

In some cases, Delia has to teach a child to play before she can teach them skills through play. She starts with simpler games, ensuring she can interact and engage, before moving on to complex games. Most importantly, she has to look for what the child enjoys. “I choose the game depending on the child’s interest, [so] they [will] have a gleam in their eye and connect”.

Games and Technology

Traditional games like hide and seek, puzzles, swings or anything another child might play are used to help autistic children learn skills. Nowadays, thanks to technology, new games have emerged, some of which are more high-tech than anything a neuro-typical child will use.

Take Leka, for example, a small, round, ball shaped robot developed by a French start-up with specialists in several countries. The robot uses artificial intelligence and is designed to help children progress on their cognitive, motor, social and communications skills. Less intimidating than a human, the robot interacts directly with children, setting the rules and congratulating them when they succeed. They get a real sense of accomplishment when they are able to crack the game. Amongst other games, Leka plays hide and seek and Simon Says, and new games are added every week.

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Leka, the robot, happy face

“The most important thing”, says Ladislas “is figuring out what each child enjoys. It’s the only way to open the door. And if they only like Dreamworks animated movies, then so be it.” In fact, Leka are very humble in their approach. They advise parents and organisations consider all their options before investing in Leka, because at the end of the day, their objective is to make sure the robot is bringing out the best in children.

“There are so many incredible new ways of interacting with children on the spectrum now. I’m impressed by some apps on the iPad, that have non verbal children interacting with the world, and I’m stunned by how apps like Sidekicks are helping people with autism communicate with their families.” Children on the spectrum can greatly benefit from technological playthings, which unlock new opportunities to learn and communicate.

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A child plays with Leka the robot

Is All Play Work Disguised as Fun?

Delia recommends that “parents should always play without a teaching goal in mind”. The tendency to test their child might take all the fun out of playing. Just the act of spending quality time together and fostering engagement is valuable. As they play together, the child will learn some things naturally from them, in a softer, less goal oriented way.

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Family play time, in this case with Leka the robot

“My advice is to simply follow your child’s lead. Join and imitate her at first, and as your play grows, her ideas will grow too. You’ll be “teaching” by supporting her experience in play”. As you do so, Delia suggests introducing your ideas and small challenges into games. They will encourage your child to problem solve around them, or create unity in a scattered game.

Delia recalls an autistic teen who was brought up with very little play. “He was very compliant and would carry out tasks, but seemed robotic and detached.” Recently, as she has worked around discovering what he likes and doesn’t like, and developing his ideas through play, she has seen the teen grow in confidence and become a real playmate. “He used to interact because he was supposed to, not because he wanted to. Now he’s pulling his weight in our interaction!”

Happy playtime!

Additional Links

Some additional links for parents looking for more information. Please also suggest more to us, which we can add to the list.

  • For more about Leka you can also visit here. Leka is currently looking for financial partners. Contact Ladislas at ladislas@leka.io for any inquiries,
  • An example of a sidekick app,
  • A review of Ron Suskind’s book on using Disney sidekicks at home to communicate with their son Owen,
  • Link to the film about using Disney sidekicks. 
  • Autism Speaks has a very long list of apps here

Note: all photos in this article are curtesy of Leka

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HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PUZZLES FOR YOUR HOME THERAPY NEEDS (PART 1)

Abstract: This article is generally talking about the types of puzzles and how to use them for therapy (both speech and occupational) at home for kids with special needs. However, we firmly believe some of the techniques are also beneficial for teaching kids without special needs too. Note: tips here are based on compilation of the cited reference sources and also on our own personal experience of conducting therapy for our own children but they are not a replacement for medical or clinical advice. We combined both speech and occupational therapy tips as we believe both are essential for all types of children with or without special needs so  it would be good to have the other area of concepts at the back of our minds when we are conducting one type of therapy.

Random puzzles

Puzzles

Puzzles and boardgames are frequently used by speech and occupational therapists to teach language and skills to kids with ASD or other developmental delays. As caregivers, we understand that it is not always efficient or economical to bring your child to the therapists since it involves adapting of schedule, travelling time, preparation of meals for the child before, during and after therapy (gotta keep the kiddo in absolute good mood to benefit from the session isn’t it?),  what about time away from your other kids (if you have them) and sometimes, the child is simply not in the mood.

So home therapy is highly encouraged as a supplement to your usual therapy sessions as it reinforces concepts. For those who are somehow unable to access therapy (though we highly recommend getting professional help) it will be an alternative and with enough practice, parents can actually acquire the competence.

Moreover, it is a fun way to bond with the child. See it as a chance to play with your child, albeit withjust a bit more structure.

WHY ARE THEY GOOD?

These articles from Child Development Institute  by Pam Myers and learning4kids have highlighted the different skills and concepts that children can pick up. Here we summarise the important points from the article and provide more information.

  • Hand-eye coordination: When moving, flipping and turning pieces, they can learn about the connection between hands and eyes. This enables the brain to envision how the puzzle needs to look or which piece is required. It facilitates the brain, eyes and hands to work together.
  • Fine motor skills: Small, specialized movements to hold and manipulate pieces. Acquiring motor skills through using pincer movement.
  • Gross motor skills: Stacking and moving larger pieces
  • Problem-solving: Discerning if the pieces either fit or not. Children figure out by looking at the different pieces and can test them out. They learn to solve problems logically.
  • Matching: For some puzzles, kids will have to identify which two puzzles look the same and match them
  • Shape recognition: Learning to recognize and sort shapes is part of an important development in children. Puzzle pieces need to be identified and sorted.
  • Memory: Child needs to remember which exact piece, which piece has a particular size, shape, colour, pattern, that didn’t fit now and places it aside, then picking it back up later when needed again.
  • Setting small goals: Child usually willover time develop a strategy of how to work on the puzzle more efficiently. He or she will then need to set small goals like finding all the corners before achieving the larger goal of completing the puzzle.
  • Socializing and teamwork: Working on puzzles with an adult or friend will help a child learn social skills.
  • Self esteem: When kids complete a puzzle, they feel a sense of achievement and pride. This builds up their confidence and self-esteem
  • Language and speech: As you talk about the different pieces to the child, they learn about the different names of the shapes, colours, images they see. They also pick up different prepositions, verbs, sentence formations, etc

 

WHAT PUZZLES TO CHOOSE?

So here are some of the variations to puzzles. We don’t want to clear out the entire toy store so let’s figure together what some of our preferences are. Well, as expected, mixing things up a little is the best.

  1. Material: wooden, foam, plastic, cardboard, magnetic
  2. Type (According to this article on HubPages by Rose Mary an OT): connecting, non connecting, interconnecting, others
  3. Complexity: number of pieces,
  4. Theme: animals, automotives, food, alphabets and numbers, colours, shapes, cartoons, etc

Wooden ones are typically more expensive, especially if you buy high quality ones. For toy lovers, I would invest in better quality ones as they last longer and have better finishes. Simply for the purpose of therapy, buying cheaper imitations work just as well, but do take note to sand off badly finished pieces as we do not want our kids to get scratched or splinters in their fingers (we have enough to deal with).

Foam ones, like plastic, are easy to bring around. Some kids might like their squishy texture, others not. Plastic ones are the most value for money. Magnetic ones are the most fuss-free as they do not fall all over the place and are easy to store (second favourite after wooden ones).

Cardboards are typically jigsaw puzzles which are just so fulfilling when we manage to complete them. And oh so good for developing patience and focus in our little ones. They can also be matching flashcards.

Mazes (which might or might not require a separate writeup, let’s see) are another type of puzzle that are super fun and great for training fine motor skills and problem solving.

For those who find regular jigsaw puzzles dull, they can add a punch by buying those with 3D effect.

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Thank you.

 

Team Irisada.

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