Caring for Aging Parents During The Holidays
Are you planning a visit home for the holidays? If you're an adult child of an aging parent, the holidays may be the only time of the year you get to check up on dear mom and dad—particularly if you live out of town. According to a 2011 survey by the AARP, it's reported that 90% of adults, 65 and older, live home alone by choice. For this reason, it's important for adult children to watch for warning signs in and around the house when home for the holidays.
Dr. Linda Rhodes, former Secretary of Aging and author of The Essential Guide to Caring for Aging Parents, has developed a checklist to use during your next visit home.
Five Things to Look For in Aging Parents:
In general, look for things that might signal a change in thinking skills, vision, hearing or the ability to be physically active. These can happen at any time, but might be more prominent around the holidays; cold weather might make parents more uncomfortable, but you're also more likely to see them at this time of year. Look at
- Around the House
Is the house more unkempt than usual? In the kitchen, do you see scorched pots and pans? If household bills are piling up and mail is left unopened, it could be a sign that the simple tasks of writing bills, balancing a checkbook and keeping track of due dates is becoming overwhelming.
- In the Fridge
Is the refrigerator well stocked with fresh produce and meats? Do you notice moldy or expired food products? These could be signs that your parents are becoming malnourished, especially, if they also appear to have lost weight and have little interest in food. Poor diet can exacerbate chronic diseases, lead to a weakened immune system and increase the risk
- In the Medicine Cabinet
Are your parents taking more than five medications? Are expired pill bottles mixed in with current ones? Are the pills organized to prevent taking the wrong dose or too many? Do they have trouble holding a coherent conversation, often repeating the same story? Dizziness, confusion and signs of dementia can be caused by medications or taking the wrong combination of drugs.
- In Their Social Life
When was the last time your parents went out with friends or out to dinner? Do they still do the things they used to enjoy? If you find them reluctant to leave the house, it could be a sign that they’re having a hard time driving, moving about, seeing or hearing, and so they’d rather stay home. This could lead to loneliness and depression. Try to find out what’s causing them to disengage.
- Outside the Home
If your parents are still driving, have them drive you somewhere so that you can assess their driving skills. It’s especially important to do this if you notice dents or scratches on their car or if they’ve recently received speeding or traffic tickets.
Five Things You Can Do to help Aging Parents:
- Help Organize Their Medications
Help your parents make their current system of storing and taking pills more fail-safe. Purchase pill-tracker containers that separate pills by the day, week and time of day. Color-code and label the lids of their pill bottles so they know which one is a water pill, heart pill and so forth. Create a list of all their current medications and who prescribed them. Make copies for them to take to all of their medical appointments and one for you to keep at home.
- Get to Know Their Local Support System
Introduce yourself to your parents’ neighbors, exchange phone numbers and tell them to feel free to call you if they think your parents might need you. Go to the local post office and sign up for the Carrier Alert program (postal carriers will alert you if they think something is amiss). Make a contact list with names and phone numbers of your parent’s doctors, pharmacist and other care providers.
- Talk About Medical Decision-Making and Other Legal Issues
This is one of the most difficult conversations to have with your parents, so approach it by saying that you want to make sure their wishes are followed and the only way you can do this is to be aware of what they want “just in case.” You need to know the location of all their important papers, such as living will, durable healthcare power of attorney, power of attorney, will and insurance policies.
- Help Them with Their Annual Medicare or Managed Care paperwork
Every fall your parents need to review their Medicare plan and decide if they want to keep their current plan or make a change. Your parents need to decide whether or not to stay in traditional Medicare or opt for a Medicare managed care plan. It can be very confusing. You can also help them choose a Medicare Part D prescription plan. Go to medicare.gov for answers on Medicare Part D and comparisons
- Look Into a Geriatric Assessment
If you are concerned that your parents seem to be experiencing difficulties, it might be time to encourage them to set up an overall assessment of their health by an interdisciplinary team including a physician trained in geriatrics. Many local hospitals offer this type of service.
Of course, some parents might need additional help, or their care might be straining you or family. If that's the case, download the checklist below so you proactively know what to look for in a senior living community.
About Presbyterian Senior Living
Presbyterian Senior Living is a not-for-profit organization, fulfilling its charitable purpose and mission by providing high quality retirement choices, healthcare services and affordable residential living options for people 55 and older for more than 85 years. Headquartered in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Senior Living provides services to approximately 6,000 seniors in 30 locations in the mid-Atlantic region of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and Delaware.