You have probably seen the cartoon images that show a human's lifecycle from birth until death. First, you witness babies being held and then crawling. Next, you see a child aging, their walking, becoming a teenager, and then an adult. At the end of the image, you witness the adult becoming a senior citizen and their health regresses. The last images are of that senior hunched over or in a wheelchair. It illustrates the commonplace occurrence of losing mobility. Though sometimes this loss is slight, other times it can mean the complete inability to walk on one's own.
I noticed something similar to this happen with my mother-in-law, a widow since 2001. This woman has always been spritely and young-at-heart. When I looked at her I always saw a Rosie the Riveter, never having to wait for a man to do for her what she could do for herself. From changing light bulbs in the ceiling to painting the doorframes around her condo, there wasn’t much she couldn’t do. It’s incredible how quickly things changed. She had retired and in doing so she no longer had much to keep her occupied. Never much of a social butterfly, her new way of life didn’t have much to offer her. She did little to fix-up her house and made no effort to join any social group. Day after day she just sat on the couch and watched television. Most likely she was depressed but she hid this from her son and me. She wasn’t eating, and due to this her salt level dove to a dangerously low level. One day everything started to crash and burn. Her low salt level caused her to fall and injured her head. She was unable to get herself up from the floor and she began having hallucinations. Fortunately, when my husband was unable to reach her by phone, he was made aware of her predicament within a few hours of her falling. She was immediately brought to the hospital where she remained for 6 days, followed by two weeks in rehab. Though three years later she is now able to walk and drive on her own, she worries about repeating the incident. Due to this, she walks with a walker, which has become a security blanket of sorts. She no longer embodies Rosie the Riveter. When I look at her now what I see is a sickly child.
Her life didn’t have to be this way. There are things you can do as you get older, including things you do related to sleep, that can help keep you safe:
Visit your doctor
Going to your primary physician regularly and keeping him or her updated on any changes you are noticing in your body can help them to proactively maintain your health. This includes paying attention to your mental health and seeking assistance for this if you find you need it.
Watch your levels
We all know that we need to watch our blood pressure and cholesterol, but being mindful of things such as our iron and sodium levels is equally important. Your doctor can confirm what healthy levels are for you, and ways that you can achieve and maintain these.
Making sure to give your body the vitamins and minerals that it needs can help you to stay healthy. If you have lost your appetite, consider taking daily supplements or having a nutritional drink such as Boost or Ensure to compensate for the nutrients you are no longer obtaining through your diet.
Eating properly goes hand-in-hand with getting adequate amounts of liquid in your diet. It’s important to drink adequate water and other liquids throughout the day.
Getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night (this number may be slightly lower or higher for you) can keep your body functioning at its prime. Keeping a nightly routine and sleep schedule is one of the best things you can do for your body. When we sleep, our bodies prepare us for the next day.
Keeping the floor clean of debris can be extremely helpful should you wake in the middle of the night. Items on the floor can easily cause one to fall.
Handles and bars
Adding handles and bars to your shower, your stairways, and even your bed, can assist in preventing you from falling.
Assess your bedroom
Do you have a rug on the floor, which can cause tripping? Is there a lamp or other light source close to your bed? Are important phone numbers, such as emergency numbers and family members, within reach? Preparing your room for those “what if” situations in life can be extremely beneficial.
Consider a monitor
Depending on your health level, as you age you might want to consider investing in a monitoring device and service. If you hurt yourself and there is no one in the immediate vicinity to help you, such a device can alert the necessary people that you need help. These devices are especially helpful if you wake up in the middle of the night and get injured.
Never be ashamed of getting older and reaching our for help. As the Beatles reminded us, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”