Few people fully anticipate the task of taking care of elderly parents — but plenty seem to deny that it’s coming. Sooner or later, avoidance can thrust adult children into the caregiver role with a shotgun start. A parent’s slip in the bathroom or a collision caused by a mistake in the driver’s seat can precipitate a deluge of anguished decisions and rapid changes you’re not ready to handle.
Here’s a game plan.
Keeping Them Socially Connected
As the losses associated with aging mount, many seniors become isolated and are at risk of suffering from depression. Some ways to make sure they stay engaged with the world:
Get them involved
No longer managing the demands of child rearing or a career, many seniors have—for the first time—the opportunity to contribute the wisdom amassed over decades. Look for ways to get them to ‘give back.’
Find shared meals
Some seniors have difficulty with meal preparation or simply lose interest in food if they’re feeling depressed. So-called congregate meals, which often take place at senior centers and may include transportation, provide a helping of the social interaction everyone needs. Meals on Wheels can be found in their area on www.mealcall.org.
Keep them mobile
Surrendering the car keys—or losing a spouse who did all the driving—can bring about an emotionally devastating loss of independence.
Care of elderly parents … Safeguarding Health and Safety
It’s now known that regular exercise can protect older people against disease and make them functionally younger by 10 or 15 years. Indeed, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association have recently published exercise guidelines for seniors that call for several workouts a week.
Some additional precautions:
Work with the pharmacy. “Poor medication management is the No. 1 reason for leaving an independent living situation and going into supervised care,” says Elinor Ginzler, coauthor of Caring for Your Parents: The Complete AARP Guide. Most pharmacies can repackage pills that should be taken together in a “calendar card,” an easy-to-use blister pack.
Get help behind the wheel
For parents, the idea of stopping can be daunting and depressing, and it can inspire the most vehement, stubborn refusal. But bodies stiffen, reaction time diminishes, and cognitive abilities may wane. When driving gets dangerously erratic, a serious talk about hanging up the keys becomes necessary.
Draw up the documents
All adults—but especially older ones—are advised to designate a healthcare power of attorney, also known as a health proxy, which is the person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re unable; create a living will, which (unlike a will that designates assets after death) details such things as the circumstances in which you wouldn’t want a feeding tube to keep you alive; and consider talking to a doctor to decide if you want a do-not-resuscitate order, which instructs healthcare providers in the event the heart or lungs stop. A state-specific healthcare proxy and a living will can be downloaded free from www.caringinfo.org.
Preparing the Home
The vast majority of senior citizens want to live out their days in their homes—and without being a burden on their kids. Planning ahead greatly raises your odds of making it happen.
Consider hiring a pro
A knowledgeable, neutral professional can assist from the start, even when your parents are still living at home. Locate an expert through the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers to help navigate everything from finding a companion service for Dad to identifying a mediator to help settle family differences over caregiving choices.
Keep track with technology
Helping your parents remain in their home may be realistic but typically requires at least a few adjustments to keep them comfortable and safe. Savvy families are deploying products like QuietCare, which relies on strategically placed motion sensors, to maintain tabs on their elders.
Remove booby traps
The National Association of Home Builders has certified aging-in-place specialists who can consult and make structural changes. Extras that you or a specialist might install, says Meri-K Appy of the Home Safety Council, include anti-scald devices for showers and faucets (like H2O Stop, a new product) that protect older skin, which is quick to sustain severe burns; alternatively, set water heaters to “low” or at 120 degrees.
Carbon monoxide detectors are recommended since elderly people are sensitive to even small concentrations of the deadly gas. Special smoke detectors with strobe lighting or a vibrate feature can wake them up when conventional devices wouldn’t—new research suggests the latter are set at frequencies that many elderly people can’t hear.
Keep an eye out for subtle changes: Are the plants watered? Is unopened mail piling up? Do they have bruises suggesting they may have fallen? Enlist your family and your parents’ trusted neighbors to check in.
Senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to financial distress once they’re living on a fixed income and experiencing some cognitive decline.
Here’s how you can help:
Discuss the money
The World War II generation tends to guard financial information and independence, driving some proud seniors to foolhardy measures.
Durable power of attorney
Another document to complete is a durable power of attorney, which names a person who will control Mom’s finances if
Find extra money
The National Council on Aging’s benefitscheckup.org can direct people to assistance programs.
Protect against scams
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to telephone solicitations for phony investments, say, and to getting tricked into sharing their Social Security number. This year, officials reported a spate of deceptive sales of Medicare Advantage plans. It’s a good idea to have parents get their credit report checked; … issuing agencies—TransUnion is capable.