How To Plan For Aging Parents
You may have noticed lately that your aging parents are less able to do things for themselves. We certainly saw that in my family. When physical problems become more and more apparent, and the elder in your life is losing independence, it's time to develop a plan. My mother in law, Alice, is 95, getting frail and losing her vision. She finally admitted that she needed help. Exactly what that meant to her was not clear. We just saw her getting depressed over being unable to do the things she liked to do: reading, playing cards and mahjong, and easily using her computer. She was spending way too much time in the recliner. We stepped in right away.
The first task was to hire a caregiver to attend to her daily needs for help with the basics: her shower, seeing things she would miss, grocery shopping and meals. She lives in a seniors community in her own apartment and meals are provided in the dining room, but she likes to have her favorite foods on hand in her own refrigerator. Here at AgingParents.com, we literally wrote the book on how to hire help (The Family Guide to Aging Parents: Answers to Your Legal, Healthcare and Financial Questions). Now it was time to follow our own advice. We did so. The caregiver may have some training or experience but any new person is not going to know your aging parent. You need to give them an idea about what is needed and put things in writing. A competent caregiver will stay in communication with the elder's adult children and follow their instructions. The aging parent's wishes are always elicited and respected as long as they are not harmful.
For Alice, the formerly very active 95-year-old, one goal is to fight that depression. We had her doctor evaluate her and she got a low dose of anti-depressant medication. That does help but it takes more than a pill to do the job of coping with depression. Next, we wrote out for the caregiver the safety concerns we had. These included making sure she could see the labels correctly on her pill bottles (many) so she could pour her medications into the dispenser she uses. Other safety measures included standby assistance with her showering and helping with laundry. The caregiver is a gentleman who not only watches over her well, he provides good companionship. Outings are part of the care plan. Fortunately, Alice can afford to go places and do things, so we set that up. The caregiver takes her to a nearby lake to feed the ducks, to the grocery store, to the beach and daily for a walk with her walker. She has trouble reading the labels on anything and he helps. We gave him guidance as to her preferences and habits and put it all in an email so he could have something to follow from day one.
Any very independent aging parent may find it hard to accept help. No one likes to give up control but the time may come when they do yield to the ravages of time. At that point the family can and should figure out an ideal sort of day or week you all can imagine and discuss it with your aging parent. If reaching that ideal is the goal, family can help by looking for the right care provider to assist in getting there. We do not recommend leaving this entirely up to an aging parent in failing health. Judgment may be impaired, memory can be problematic and younger, more capable family or even friends need to help create and execute the care plan. Here are the takeaways:
Paying attention to your loved one's needs includes identifying the point at which help may be necessary. Outside help can supplement what family can provide on your own.
Discuss with your aging parent what kinds of help they think would be useful to them. Listen but then add your own judgment to devise a plan of care for them.
Safety is the primary concern. Focus on that first. Once those safety needs are addressed, consider what fun, entertainment and socialization would work for your aging parent and suggest it to the care provider. Keeping your loved one moving and occupied can definitely help with the pervasive problem of depression.
Stay in regular and frequent communication with the care provider to ensure that the plan is being followed. If not, explore why and make adjustments as needed.
There may be many other concerns when you are taking stock of what an aging loved one needs to stay safe and have a good quality of life. Parents don't all cooperate, and some will flat out resist your efforts. Unless the aging parent is no longer competent to make decisions, you can't force it on them. But for those who will accept help, thinking the process through and writing it down will smooth things along. So far, Alice is managing rather well and she loves the caregiver. So do we! "He's a jewel," she says