Providing Care for Aging Parents
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In general, the level or amount of care provided by a primary caregiver increases along with the age of one’s parents. Some periods may offer a bit more reprieve than others, but as aging continues, the challenges increase, so be prepared.
Perhaps your parents have been living independently in your hometown and doing just fine. Maybe a health scare or temporary condition caused you to begin thinking. Roll with it. Investigate. The more you know about the services available before you need them, the easier necessary decisions will be later. Tour communities near your home or near the home of the ones in your family who will provide the majority of support care.
Whether or not you’ve tackled the subject with parents yet, you can scope out potential alternate living arrangements before a change is warranted. Constraints on the primary and supporting caregivers, level of assistance needed by a parent, or a parent’s long-term prognosis may all contribute to the decision that home care for your parent isn’t the best option, even if you wish it were.
There are more distinguishable levels of care offered by outside sources. The majority are scaled or rated based on independence of the patient. “Retirement Community” is the term often used for multi-level care facilities. They often encompass a large campus, offering different levels of care, usually in multiple buildings, and with a wide variety of staff. You may see independent living, assisted living, and skilled care (nursing) centers or any mixture of these in any one community. The amount of care given at each level varies and depends on the management. Many communities are owned by large corporations, so it is important to check the stability of the parent company when considering such alternatives.
This could mean living in a single-family home or apartment without assistance. As in any home situation, family members or paid caregivers can offer aid in this setting. Sometimes in-home help provides more care for a parent than he would receive if he moved into a facility. However, in-home care, especially to cover 24 hours, is more expensive.
Some communities have strict guidelines for determining resident placement, but health challenges and independence levels don’t always fall on a straight continuum. The potential red flag is assessing independence. Some communities will not allow a person or couple to move into independent living unless they can walk independently or can verify that they will be safe using a wheelchair if they have been using one most of their lives.
When looking at a retirement community that offers multiple support levels, ask beyond the obvious questions of cost and amenities:
- What circumstances would require a move between levels of care?
- What temporary options are available if a short-term situation requires additional help, such as recovering from a hip replacement?
If you’re looking at a community that does not offer multiple levels of care, see where additional support is offered locally. Discover what is available—how accessible it is (is there a waiting list?) and if it is affordable.
Within the realm of independent living within a retirement community, there are also several cost considerations. Some communities offer month-to-month apartment rentals. Others require an upfront fee and monthly rent. Still others offer the purchase of homes, patio homes, or apartments, which can be resold later. Each option comes with a monthly fee, called by a variety of names. Services may include meals, activities, transportation, utilities, general maintenance, and cleaning of the home. It takes time to go through all the options and match needs and potential use to find the best value.
Modifications to the House
If you’re planning to keep your parent at home as long as possible, you may have to make some modifications for the sake of safety, ease, and navigability. These modifications may include widening doors to accommodate a walker or wheelchair, installing ramps or rails, making a shower handicapped-accessible, adding an elevated toilet seat, acquiring a shower/bath chair, removing thick carpeting and rugs, putting all lights in a room on a single switch, and rearranging furniture, closets, cabinets, drawers, and small appliances for easier access.
Seniors also need help with chores such as changing light bulbs, yard maintenance, and caring for pets. A good way to see where your parents need assistance or modifications is to spend the day shadowing them, watching what they avoid because it is too difficult and seeing things they attempt that could create a falling or tripping hazard or foreshadow other safety issues. By taking the time to observe and then make adjustments, you may be able to afford your parents the ability to live at home safely a little longer.
You may want to investigate alarm-type services available for senior adults living independently that provide a “panic button” worn around the neck. While the level of service varies, most are for emergency purposes—a fall, heart attack, or breathing problems—rather than serving as a monitoring system. If you procure such a service for your parents, make sure they know the difference so they don’t have a false sense of security. In other words, the service will respond only if they push the button. Also, make sure they comprehend that the service is for medical emergencies, not for help finding their glasses.
Another thing to stress is the service works only within range of the monitoring box placed in their home. It won’t work at the park down the street or at the mall cafeteria. Used properly, this service can provide an added level of confidence and security for aging parents and their children.
As parents age, proper nutrition may become an issue, particularly if they live alone. Medications and health conditions often change a sense of what tastes good, so foods your parent once enjoyed may hold little appeal now. And you’ve probably noticed they are much more vocal about their food likes and dislikes, which may change weekly or daily.
One thing to watch for is how much salt your parent uses. With changing tastes, seniors often try to compensate by salting foods excessively. This especially becomes a problem for those with heart conditions because of the potential for fluid retention.
Another concern comes when parents fail to get adequate nutrition because preparing a meal seems like too much bother. You may want to see if your community offers a program that delivers one meal a day to senior citizens. These programs are often free and provide your parent at least one nutritious meal each weekday.
Proper nutrition is especially important for parents with conditions such as diabetes or low iron. You may need to encourage your parents to drink canned supplement shakes if their eating habits are poor. Several brands are available, some with low sugar content.
While some seniors have a hard time getting enough calories, others need to watch calorie consumption because of a more sedentary lifestyle. Indulging in salty junk food or rich desserts seems to be the downfall of many and can lead to serious health complications.
If possible, encourage the incorporation of the following foods in their diets:
- Protein—egg whites, lean meats (turkey, fish, chicken), beans, and peas
- Fiber—whole grain breads, fruits
- Fluids—six to eight glasses of water, juice, or milk per day
- Good fats—nuts, olive oil, avocado
- Vitamins and minerals—green vegetables, raisins, cheese, and yogurt
Taken from: When Your Aging Parent Needs Care. Copyright © 2009 by Candy Arrington and Kim Atchley. Published by Harvest House Publishers. Eugene, OR. Used by permission.
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