Dealing with your Aging Parent
If your parents live long enough, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up worrying about their health and safety. Researchers have found that many seniors suffer from poor physical health due to a number of factors, including inactivity and bad nutrition, tobacco, use and substance abuse.
In addition, about one-third of people over the age of 70 suffer from memory problems. An estimated 3.4 million Americans have dementia (which means a loss of the ability to function independently), and another 5.4 million people over age 70 have memory loss that can create problems but is not severe enough to affect their ability to complete their daily living routines.
If you live near your aging parents, you may find yourself spending more time trying to help them. Studies show that nearly four of five adults who need long-term care are living in their homes or a community setting rather than in an institution. PBS reports that two-thirds of the people caring for these adults are unpaid caregiver – spouses, children or friends.
How do you know what your parents need?
If you live far away, you can’t physically provide help for your parents very often. As they age, there may come a time when they some extra help – or possibly even senior citizen care in an assisted living place or nursing home. But how do you know what kind of help your parents need? The decision can be agonizing, especially if you don’t live close enough to see them regularly.
Experts say there are a few things you can do to determine if your parents need help and what kind of intervention may be necessary.
First, arrange for a thorough evaluation. This means a complete physical examination by a physician, including an assessment of your parent’s mental abilities. Are there memory deficit or signs of anxiety or depression? The doctor should also look at your parent’s ability to complete daily living activities – can he get out of bed or a chair without help? Can he dress and bathe himself? Having a professional identify any problems can take a lot of weight off your shoulders. It may also provide some comfort for your parents, if they have been struggling to keep up with housework and personal care.
Second, ask people who see your parent more than you do for their opinion. This could mean other relatives, neighbors or clergy who have had a chance to observe your parent in a variety of settings. They will be able to tell you how well your parents function when you’re not around.
Finally, look at how your parent is living. Has your parent had any automobile accidents? Is he or she experiencing falls? Does your parent dress appropriately – in clean, well-fitting and seasonally appropriate clothing? Is your parent practicing good personal hygiene? Is the house clean and well-maintained? Is the pantry stocked with nutritional food? Have your parent’s spending habits changed? Is he or she writing large checks to people or organizations you don’t know?
The answers you get from the doctor, the friends whose opinions you sought, and your own observations should help you determine whether your parents need some extra help. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your parent needs a nursing home. There are a number of community-based solutions that would enable your parent to remain at home, at least for the time being. For instance, almost every community has a number of qualified, caring professionals who can provide services like help with personal care, assistance with meal preparation, driving them to medical appointments, and medication reminders. Look for compassionate home healthcare providers who are licensed and bonded. Ask for references and talk with others who have used these providers.
If you’re not sure where to get started, check out the federal government’s Eldercare website. It helps you find caregivers by city, state or zip code, and has volumes of information on a number of topics that relate to aging. The information you find there may make it possible for your parents to stay longer in their own home.