By Denise S. Pott, LCSW – Assistance Home Care
If you are a long distance caregiver, you may not see your parents often, so occasional visits may present your only chance to detect changes in their well-being. This can be difficult for several reasons. First, they will likely be excited for your visit, giving them an emotional lift. This, in turn, can improve their appearance and give them energy that they may not normally have. They may spruce themselves up, go to the barber or beauty shop, pick out something fresh to wear. In general, you may find them looking much better than they do on a day-to-day basis. After your visit, like a deflated balloon, they may sink back to the level where they were before.
Still, the aging parent can only keep up this wellness act for a short time. If an adult child coming from a distance can stay a few days, he or she does have a chance to get a fresh look at how the parents are doing. Their input can help the caregiver who sees the parents daily, since a primary caregiver may not notice subtle changes.
Another reason that changes can be difficult to detect is that primary caregivers who visit on a more regular basis, tend to do what needs to be done, and may not notice that certain abilities are being lost. That’s when someone who only sees the elders occasionally can be really helpful. So, what should you watch for that could help you decide if you need to suggest to your parents that they get some help?
Take a look around the house
Look at the rugs. My neighbor used to have wood floors and scatter rugs all over. I had to fight with him to get those rugs removed, finally agreeing to slide them under the bed, so he could get at them if he wanted to (he never did.) Scatter rugs are a favorite with many elders, but they can be dangerous. Try to get rid of them, or at least get them to let you put rubber backed rugs down.
Showers and tubs should be checked. Do they need grab bars? A good shower chair? A hand-held shower? Tub mats in and out of the tub need to be firmly attached and non-skid.
The dishes they use daily should be on low shelves. Most elders don’t do fancy cooking. Encourage them to let you help arrange dishes and pans in the most convenient fashion.
Replace door knobs. Door knobs can be replaced with levers, which are easier for aging hands to use.
Consider long-handled grabbers. Long-handled grabbers can help keep your parents from stooping over to pick things up off the floor, if they have problems staying steady.
Take a look at your parents
Check their balance. Speaking of ‘staying steady,’ how is their general balance? Falls are one of the worst problems for elders as they can lead to broken bones, especially hips, and complications from a broken hip can lead to death. If you see one of your elders is wobbly, try to talk him or her into seeing a doctor. Balance problems can be an early sign of dementia, or simply that joints are bad. They may have numbness they aren’t mentioning or an inner ear infection.
Don?t forget to check their medications and alcohol habits; be aware of medications that can cause dizziness. There are many reasons elders get wobbly, so it can take some doing to figure out the cause. However, it?s necessary to get to the bottom of balance issues or they won?t be safe.
Are they eating well? Elders often don?t have big appetites, but if you notice significant weight loss, you may want to take a look in their pantry and refrigerator. If they aren?t eating well, you can suggest Meals-on-Wheels, a community program that brings a nutritious dinner to elders for a very reasonable price. If eating doesn?t seem to be the issue, then a complete physical should be done to see why the weight loss is happening.
Do they seem depressed? Depression could be the hardest thing to notice if you are coming for a rare visit. As I mentioned above, your parents may be extra excited to see you, so their depression, which perhaps a sibling has mentioned, may temporarily lift. However, do watch for signs of depression, such as sleeping too much, loss of interest in former hobbies they once loved (without other reasons such as failing eye sight), no appetite, or no interest in anything at all. Also, most seniors love getting mail, so if you see piles of mail lying around unopened, depression may be an issue. You may want to ask a good friend or neighbor about your parents? general moods when you aren?t there. Someone who sees them frequently may get a better handle on depression.
Do Mom and Dad cover for each other?
Couples who have been together for a long time can help each other read, eat and do other things so common to daily life that no one stops to notice that they are such a team they are ‘filling in the gaps’ for each other. Often, even they don’t know this is happening. When you visit, try to “separate” the team a bit. See if Dad’s hearing is getting worse, but Mom is hearing for him. See if Mom’s balance is bad in the morning, but Dad is getting her breakfast and making sure she is steady before anyone else sees her. In other words, see if it takes a team for them just to hang on.
Teamwork is wonderful, and it’s beautiful to see long-married couples working seamlessly beside each other. However, if there are health issues that need tending to, this teamwork can be detrimental. Getting each of your parents alone helps you identify strong and weak points.
One thing to remember when you visit is that you shouldn’t swoop in and try to change everything. Just get a feel for what is going on, how your parents are doing, in general, and what needs to be done. Then offer to help them get things done.
Talk about in-home care
Often, elders won’t disclose that they are having trouble, because they think they may have to go to a nursing home. They should know about in-home care agencies and how they can get just a few hours a week of help. Many elders can stay in their own homes much longer than they thought, because they get some in-home care for bathing and other hygiene, some medication supervision and even some light housekeeping. The caregivers who come in from agencies are generally trained to watch for the kind of things discussed in this article, and more.
Assistance Home Care is the trusted name in St. Louis area home care. Our flexible hourly and live in home care plans enable St. Louis area elders and their families to choose as much care as they need whenever they need it.? Providing the best home care in St. Louis is so important for families caring for an aging parent or loved one at home. After all, few things are more unsettling than knowing that your parent or loved one is home alone and in need of care. Every day families juggle between caring for their parents, working, and maintaining a busy family life of their own. We are here to help you and your family by providing customized hourly and live in home care solutions. We are there with you to answer your home care questions and help you and your family every step of the way to make informed decisions on the best possible aging in place options for you and your loved one right at home.