Caregivers can help independent-living seniors to better prepare for falls or other emergency situations by telling hypothetical stories of older adults dealing with similar issues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults age 65 and older falls at least once every year. These falls can result in moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and can increase the risk of early death.
“Older adults want to be independent and live at home rather than in nursing homes,” says Lawrence Ganong, professor and co-chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at University of Missouri. “However, older adults living alone have increased risk of injury during emergencies. Adults living in rural communities are especially at risk because there are fewer healthcare professionals in these areas, less community support, and slower ambulance response times.”
Don’t tell me what to do
For the study, Ganong designed vignettes, or stories, that demonstrated fictitious older adults in emergency situations. Ganong had members of the older adults’ support network, whether family members, neighbors, or close friends, discuss the hypothetical scenarios with the older adults.
He found that older adults who had discussed the stories with their support members created better emergency plans than those who only received emergency planning information from members of their support networks.
“Older adults don’t like to be told what to do or how to do something,” Ganong says. “When family members or close friends try to tell older adults what to do when it comes to emergency planning, they tend not to listen,” says Ganong, whose study appears in the Journal of Family Nursing.
“However, we found that when family members presented these hypothetical stories to older adults, the older adults began to think of themselves in the emergency situations and began to talk about what they would do. The stories helped older adults think about what could go wrong and, consequently, helped them plan for emergencies.”
Ganong, who also is a professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing, has created a guide for caregivers and offers guidance on how to create personalized vignettes. He currently is working on a way to make the guide available online to caregivers and older adults.
“Creating vignettes isn’t a difficult process, and most caregivers could grasp the concept pretty quickly,” Ganong says. “The key is to make sure the vignettes relate to the older adults in subtle ways. It shouldn’t be obvious that the stories are based around their lives but rather lives or situations similar to theirs.”
In addition to helping older adults prepare for falls or other health situations, vignettes also can be conversation starters for other difficult discussions among family members.
“These vignettes, because they are hypothetical, are designed to make discussions easier on both family members and the older adults,” Ganong says. “The stories make conversations more relaxed and could possibly help ease discussions about other sensitive topics, such as wills or funeral arrangements, to ensure that everyone in the families is on the same page.”
The United States Department of Agriculture funded the study.
Source: University of Missouri