Caring for Elderly Parents: Can They Live Safely at Home?
It’s understandable for your elderly parents to want to age in place in the comfort of their home. But, keep in mind that they may need your help to maintain a safe environment and manage their daily living activities.
The keyword here is, “help,” which they may not ask you for but you know that they will need it. Asking for help from their children may be difficult for some parents, particularly those who are adamant about remaining in control of their lives.
So, how will you know that your parents need help? Listen closely when you talk with them and keep your eyes open when visiting them. You can probably spot signs that show their struggles with independent living.
The following are some signs to watch for that indicate your parents are struggling with independent living:
- Difficulty keeping up with household chores. For example, dishes stacked in the kitchen sink, cluttered rooms and floors, and piles of dirty laundry
- No longer eating on a regular basis, or lost interest in cooking, or cooks but burns food forgotten on the stove
- Neglecting personal grooming and hygiene, wearing tattered clothes
- Forgetting to pay bills, bounced checks, getting calls from collection agencies
- Forgetting to take medication
- Missing medical or other appointments
- Misplacing personal items
- Frequent tripping and falling over
- No longer wanting to drive or drives and gets lost
- Preferring to remain socially isolated, not interested in leaving the house, or attending social events
A steady decline in your parents’ physical and mental health also factors into whether your parents can live safely at home. For example, when your once even-tempered and cordial parent becomes aggressive or aloof, some type of change is occurring. Also, frequent long-term hospitalizations and visits to medical specialists are signals of changes.
Major Factors That Affect Safe Living
While each family is unique, most adult children share common concerns when it comes to their parents’ safety, such as their parents’:
1. Mental and physical health. It’s a fact that the body undergoes changes in the normal process of aging. Along with the body comes changes in memory and thinking. So, you can expect changes in your parents’ health status that could result in more visits to the doctor and possibly hospitalizations.
2. Finances. To determine whether your parents can manage their finances, it may be helpful to ask them their sources of income, if you do not know already. Also, do they have enough income to cover their debts? Is their house paid for? If not, are they in jeopardy of losing it?
3. Home Repairs. If your parents live in their own home, chances are their house will be in need of repairs. Can your parents pay for expensive repairs? For instance, what if the roof needs to be replaced? Or what if the furnace breaks down? What if they need to upgrade the house to meet current city code or accommodate a wheelchair, walker, or other medical equipment? You may offer to help pay for necessary repairs or help them find organizations in their community that help seniors with home repairs.
As your parent’s age, their list of needs will continue to grow, which means you may have to call in professionals to help you care for them.
Caregiving Starts With You
Caring for aging parents usually begins with small things like grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, and helping around the house, according to Pamela D. Wilson, a national caregiving expert, and creator of the online digital caregiving program, “Taking Care of Elderly Parents: Stay at Home and Beyond.”
But caregiving can become overwhelming as your parents’ needs increase and, siblings are not always dependable at a time like this. Wilson said caregiving decisions can turn into unexpected battles between siblings, particularly those who want to tell you what should be done but “run the opposite direction” when they are asked to help out.
Fortunately, there are caregiving options to keep your parents living safely in their home. In addition to you or your siblings caring for your parents, you can also enlist the help of a home care agency that provides a wide range of services for seniors, and handle tasks that you and your siblings may find uncomfortable, such as helping a parent manage his or her incontinence.
Generally, home care agencies provide personal care assistants, home health aides, and certified nursing assistants as caregivers. These professional caregivers, who are supported by registered nurses and supervisors, work in shifts and can be available around the clock, based on a client’s needs.
Some caregivers are assigned to the same clients, but another person may substitute when a regular caregiver is not available. Since different workers start working at different times, your parents may or may not want strangers coming into their homes each day.
Should this be the case, another form of home care is live-in care which may be preferable for older adults who need ongoing care but only want one main caregiver in place. In this situation, a professional caregiver lives in the client’s home to help with daily living activities and needs.
Caregivers, whether a live-in caregiver or one who works in shifts, helps with personal care and household tasks, such as:
- Using the toilet
- Planning and preparing meals
- Doing laundry
- Making and changing beds
- Vacuuming, sweeping
- Providing medication reminders
- Running errands
Most importantly, professional caregivers offer companionship that so many seniors want and enjoy.
Starting the Conversation
While you can offer to wash the dishes or mop the floors when visiting your parents, this does not take care of the overall problem.
Caregiving experts recommend that adult children work their concerns into a normal conversation with their elderly parents. You may want to first discuss your worries with your siblings over whether your parents can live safely in their home.
If a home care agency is an option, help your parents understand how it works, why you (and your siblings) believe it’s necessary, and how it will support their goal of living independently. And most importantly, allow your parents to make the final decision.
Caregiving is a new experience for both parents and their adult children. Wilson suggests that adult children use this as an opportunity to care for their elderly parents today and develop a future safety net and a plan of care for themselves.