Assessing Your Elder's Needs
Whether you're a long-distance caregiver, or your parents live close by, it's important to really understand what their needs are. Here are some areas to consider when you know mom or dad is beginning to need some help.
It's hard to know what your parents need unless you are able to spend some time with them. How often do you really see their daily activities? While you might see them at church or during the holidays, when do you have time to observe them doing household chores or managing their finances? Have you been in the car while they are driving, in the recent past? Are they still able and willing to cook healthy meals? Are they taking their medications daily and in the right doses and at the right times? These are all important considerations when you begin to think about getting them some help.
There's a great check list available at pbs.org/caringforyourparents in a pdf format. It's called the Checklist of Activities for Daily Living. Gerontologist's call these the ADL's. It's the day-to-day things that most of us do for ourselves to remain independent. To keep our parents as independent as possible, it's important to understand their abilities. It's also important to understand the things that they're reluctant to do.
Be observant. The first thing to consider is how they are taking care of their body's needs. Is mom or dad dressing properly? Are they taking baths or showers on a regular basis. Are they getting exercise, or have they began to just sit for most of the day? Watch the way they walk and get up and down stairs. If they're having trouble, then it's time to make some changes. Perhaps it might be as simple as moving their bedrooms from upstairs to a downstairs room. Have they fallen lately? It might be time for a cane or walker. The best prevention of falling is exercise and a safe home. That means a home free of throw rugs and with proper handrails in the bathroom. If you are worried about a parent who is living alone, it might be time for you to sign them up with a phone check-in service. These are sometimes called "Friendly Visitors." They call at the same time everyday, just to see if they are safe.
The next area of concern might be their cooking, shopping and eating habits. Take a look into their refrigerator and in the cabinets. Do they have healthy food stocked up? Are they having trouble standing for long enough to cook their meals? Are they having trouble driving? Are going to the grocery on a regular basis? You might have to be a little sneaky to find these things out. Elders are very good at hiding their needs. It's a pride issue. But regardless, these are things you need to know before you can get them the help they need. Perhaps it's time to consider having meals-on-wheels deliver them one hot meal a day. Or you might consider adult day care at a local senior center. If you live close by, you might be able to go shopping with them and help them choose easy to fix foods that are also healthy. Try not to go to the extreme. See what can work that will not alter their lives a great deal.
You will also need to know if they are taking the medications correctly. This will be one of the hardest things to determine. It comes right after knowing how they are doing with their finances. Take a look in their medicine cabinet and look at the dates for when they were filled. Have they taken the right amount? Perhaps all you'll need to do is get them a small note pad and have them write down when they take their meds.
Finding out about the finances, well, I'll have to leave that one up to you. Some elders are very open, but most are not. If you can look at their checkbooks, you might get an idea if the bill were paid on time and properly recorded.
The next thing to look at is how their homes look. Are they able to do the household chores? What chores seem to have been left undone? They might just need someone to come in once or twice a week to give them a hand. Also, check to see if their laundry has been kept up. These are probably the easiest things to remedy. Seeing if yard maintenance is up-to-date is a no-brainer. Don't let them refuse. At some point it's like becoming the parent - you'll need to put your foot down. Getting help in the home is usually preferred to assisted living!
When their needs begin to outweigh the help you can get at home, it's time to consider alternative housing. Most seniors hate to consider leaving their homes, but it can be a blessing in disguise. If they have trouble with transportation and other issues, an assisted living community can offer them a new beginning and a chance to make new friends.
Have you dealt with these issues with your parents? We'd love to hear your stories!