Planning for the Holidays often includes the anticipation of spending time with elderly loved ones. But, too often there's that lurking question: "Is mom or dad ok at home alone?" The realization that our parents are no longer the vibrant folks we knew is distressing. You may start wondering if caring for an elderly parent is in your future. Eldercare experts report senior care facilities have an increase in inquires and admissions after the holiday season.
Before you plan visits to care facilities, look for these 6 safety signs, indicators that mom or dad at home alone might be problematic. With the right equipment and a little support many people age in place throughout their life-span.
As people age, everyday activities become more difficult. Physical limitations, decreases in strength and energy, and loss in mental acuity mean changes will be needed for them to remain safely at home. These 6 safety signs will help you focus on specific problems you can do something about.
1. Driving: unlike when we start driving, there is no age when we should stop driving. Skills need to be assessed:
a. Recent driving history: have they had accidents or tickets? Are there scratches or dents on the car?
b. Ride with them driving. Do they use good judgment? Can they see in all directions? Do they hear sirens or motorcycles approaching? How are their reactions times - do they brake appropriately?
c. If you have any concerns, schedule a behind-the-wheel driving test with DMV. It clarifies what problems exist, if any, and what can be done to correct them. My dad was beyond help, but refused to quit driving, despite my and his doctor's urging, until DMV revoked his license.
2. Nourishment and hydration: Do meals consist of snacks with little nutritive value? Dad often had a bowl of cereal for dinner. That's fine for breakfast, but "where's the beef" (protein)?" Stock the freezer with easy to prepare microwave dinners. Or, look into Meals on Wheels provided by the local senior center. Dehydration is the basis for many problems. Be sure they drink adequate fluids. An easy to fill and carry, non-spill container helps.
3. Finances: Are bills being paid on time? Are there frequent overdrafts? It may be time to assume bill- paying responsibilities. If it has not already been done, have your parent assign power of attorney for finances to someone else (within or outside the family) before there are problems.
4. Falls: Does your parent fall or have difficulty with balance? Falls happen, at home as well as in hospitals, but if they happen often, or they have difficulty getting up, then get them a medical alert pendant or bracelet. It won't stop the falls, but help will come at the push of the button.
5. Memory changes: Are there signs of forgetfulness that could compromise safety? A pot left cooking on the stove? Medication not taken? Frequently missed appointments? Inappropriate medication could be the culprit; talk to their doctor. There are sensors, and "pill-minders" to help with some of these problems.
6. Behavior changes: Is mom wearing clothing with stains on it, or not groomed in her usual manner? Are there signs of depression, loneliness, or alcoholism? As with memory changes, it could be medication-related, so talk with the doctor.
These problems are not indications that your parent can no longer stay at home. They may, however, indicate that proper equipment, or occasional help is needed to continue living at home safely. Bring in an elder care manager or other geriatric medical professional to assess the situation and make recommendations.
Even if you don't see any warning signs, it's never too soon to start the "difficult discussions" with your parents about what kind of care - and where they would want it, if living alone becomes a problem. Planning ahead while they are still able to make good decisions and communicate them empowers them, takes some of that burden off of you, and puts you in the position to follow through on their wishes, if it becomes necessary.
Read more about these and other problems/solutions at http://www.dadshomealone.com.
Gail Alcorn McGonigle earned her Masters degree in occupational therapy from the University of Southern California. She dedicated her career to working with elderly and disabled men and women in hospitals, nursing homes, and private homes. She applied what she had learned in her profession to the care of her own father, making modifications and providing care that allowed him to age in comfort in his own home. In her retirement her writings and talks help others to help their elderly parents age in place.