Tips for Caring for Aging Parents
Being a caregiver for an aging parent is not easy and creates a tremendous burden not only on yourself but on your family and your career. If you are age 30 to 65, unless you have been hiding under a rock, you have heard much about long-term care planning. Many of you have either already purchased or have thought about adding long-term care insurance as part of your retirement plan. However, what about your aging parents? Is it too late for them? What things can you do to help parents as they get older?
If your aging parents are still healthy and independent, long-term Care Insurance might still be an option. Traditional LTC plans, “hybrid” or asset based single premium plans and short-term care plans might be available for them.
What if they are already in or close to a care situation? If you see the unmistakable signs what can you do? Your parents are getting older, and they are slowing down. They need help with basic needs. Maybe you don’t trust them home alone. They, on the other hand, may disagree. The lack of planning makes this more difficult.
1. What about the house?
If you live close enough, you might be able to take care of basic maintenance issues. If you can’t cut the lawn, shovel snow and remove ice and do routine maintenance, you will want to hire someone to do so.
While the home should be a safe-haven, for older adults many will suffer from non-fatal injuries each year at home. Home injuries may include but are not limited to falls, poisoning, burns, choking and drowning. You want to provide an environment where they are not exposed to a situation where they could hurt themselves.
Make sure the home is adequately equipped for any disabilities or physical impairments your parents may have. The danger of falls is a major concern. According to the National Institute on Aging, six out of every ten falls happen at home, where they spend much of their time and tend to move around without thinking about safety. Many falls could be prevented by making simple changes in their living areas, as well as personal and lifestyle changes.
Take steps to "fall-proof" the home, both inside and outdoors. To make their home safer:
- remove or avoid safety hazards
- improve lighting
- install handrails and grab bars in bathrooms
- move items to make them easier to reach
An important step toward preventing falls at home is to remove anything that could cause your aging parent to trip or slip while they walk. Tripping on clutter, small furniture, pet bowls, electrical or phone cords, or other things can cause a fall. Slipping on rugs or slippery floors can also cause falls.
Arrange furniture to give them plenty of room to walk freely. Also remove items from stairs, hallways, and pathways.
Be sure that carpets are secured to the floor and stairs. Remove throw rugs, use non-slip rugs, or attach rugs to the floor with double-sided tape.
Put non-slip strips on floors, steps and non-slip strips or a rubber mat on the floor of your bathtub or shower, as well. You can buy these items at a home center or hardware store.
Make sure night lights are available in hallways and bathrooms. Good lighting will prevent falls especially at night when they may get up and go to the bathroom.
If they have pets, make sure they can care for them. Pets are great companions, but they also need to be taken care of properly.
Start looking for service providers to help them if you are unable to do so. Interview them before you need them, so when a provider is required, you can get them to work quickly. Just as you would for your home, take recommendations from trusted friends and interview a few professionals for these jobs. Include your aging parent, so they feel part of the process even if they are not in the best position to make decisions on their own.
2. What about transportation?
Perhaps one of the hardest things any person wants to give up is the ability to be independent, and that means their ability to drive and use their vehicle. Having the conversation about your parents driving skills in advance before a problem occurs is ideal. Discuss with them what happens when they no longer can safely operate a vehicle. Be sure to observe their driving skills and if necessary urge them to give up driving once you see they pose a danger to themselves and others.
Once they no longer can drive see if their community has senior transportation services. In some cases, churches and other non-profit groups provide these services as well. Many seniors use services like Uber. Uber participated in the White House Conference on Aging where they unveiled plans for community-based senior outreach and services for older adults. This will allow more freedom for your parent without them waiting for you to pick them up and take them where they need to go.
3. Grocery Shopping
Are your parents able to grocery shop on their own? Are they buying appropriate quantities of food and other supplies? Are they able to operate stoves and ovens safely? Are they eating enough?
There are services available where groceries can be picked up and delivered to them at their home. A grocery delivery service comes at a cost but provides a tremendous amount of convenience. If you do live nearby, you may want to make it an event with your parent, taking them to the store and help them put away the groceries. This way you can spend time with them and watch what they want to purchase.
Then look to see if they are actually eating what they buy. Sometimes the elderly will not eat as much as they should, and food might be going to waste.
When your parent is older, they will need to see the doctor more often. If you or another loved one lives nearby, it is a good idea that someone should attend a doctor’s office visit with your parent. Many times the senior will not remember what the doctor said or misrepresent to you what the doctor has told them. Having someone who can take notes and inform the rest of the family is key. Plus, you can make sure your parent is following the directions of their doctor.
They probably are taking several prescriptions. Are they taking the medications correctly? Look at the bottles and the dates on the bottle to see if the medications are being taken. Have someone take the medications and place them into a weekly or monthly pill box to avoid any confusion about whether they have taken the medication or not. There are a variety of these organizers available, ranging from those with enough compartments for two or more daily doses for each day of the week to those that sound an alarm when it’s time to take the medication.
If they start having more advanced memory issues, a home health aide may be required to help with medication management.
5. Basic Personal Hygiene
Personal hygiene can be a tough issue as it is embarrassing for both the older parent and the family member. It also can be physically exhausting. The physical act of providing care is strenuous in that it requires lifting and transferring. It can also be psychologically demanding. Aging parents are generally embarrassed and sad that an adult child must give them a bath or dress them, and the adult children are heartbroken from having to do so. Because of this, having a health aide help might be the best option.
Personal care starts with the basics. Try to set a bathing schedule that meets their needs. Daily showers are typically not necessary for an older loved one with a sedentary lifestyle. What they may only need is a daily sponge bath and a shower or full bath a few times a week.
Try to minimize embarrassment by having a conversation about an upcoming activity they enjoy to take attention away from the situation Allow them to maintain as much of their self-care as is safely possible.
Prepare their bath water before bringing them into the bathroom to help minimize agitation. If they are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, often they become afraid of water and especially of the sound of running water.
Don’t forget dental care. It is one area that seniors are often able to maintain longer with minimal support. Routine dental care including regular visits to the dentist are essential for oral health and has even been linked to heart disease prevention.
At some point adult daycare or assisted living might be in everyone’s best interest. Be sure to have a power-of-attorney for both healthcare and property. Typically, one sibling will take on the most work. They should communicate with the other family members. Conflicts will come up… know that in advance. Try to agree on a plan of care for the parent or parents.
Planning would make this much easier, but for far too many no thought was given to the financial and emotional issues of aging. If you see your parent headed in this direction try to avoid crisis management and stay on top of the issues before they become major issues. If you are already in crisis management, try to remain calm, both for you and your family and your parent.
The Agency on Aging offices in Ohio can provide services to seniors, the elderly, disabled, and older adults. Several resources and assistance programs are focused on some of the unique needs that seniors may have. Some of what can be assisted with include food, heating, and energy bills, medications, and more.
Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) respond to the needs of older adults as advocates, planners, and funders. AAAs provide education, information, and referral services. AAAs work with the public and private sectors to help older adults with home and community-based long-term care.
Ohio has 12 AAAs that cumulatively represent all 88 counties. To find an office near you in Ohio, call 866-243-5678 or visit their website: http://www.aging.ohio.gov/home/
Then ask yourself what have you done differently than your parent to plan for the physical, emotional and financial burdens that come with aging. Long-term Care Insurance should be part of your planning so your family can benefit from both, the financial resources and case management many policies provide.