September 05, 2016
Some of us live close enough to our parents to check in on them regularly. Others have the challenge of distance to deal with. Either way, there are many ways you can assist your aging parents: gathering necessary legal documents (see August 2016 newsletter for more on this), assembling a Family Notebook1, and providing emotional support.
Some of you are blessed to have parents living nearby where you can enjoy their company often. Other parents live far away. Either way, it is easy to overlook the fact that they may not be as competent as they once were. We assume that things will never change, but change is a part of life.
As they age, watch for signs that your parents can no longer handle financial, physical, or maintenance issues alone. This is especially important if the parent lives alone.
Home safety. Put yourself in your parents’ shoes and carefully navigate around their home. Are there throw rugs that could cause a fall? Is there enough lighting for failing eyes to see clearly? When was the furnace or fireplace last checked? Do you need to install grab bars in the tub or shower? Does she need a railing for the stairway?
Driving. The loss of independence when a senior stops driving is enormous, especially for those who live in car-dependent areas such as small towns and rural areas. Should she still be driving? If not, can you set up a way for her to get out and about, either on public transportation, with friends, or by budgeting for taxis?
Know their neighbors. If your parents live at a distance, get acquainted with their neighbors and exchange phone numbers. If a parent doesn’t answer your calls, you will want to know someone who will check on them. A neighbor first alerted us to behavioral changes in my mother-in-law that proved to be early signs of dementia. This led to more frequent in-person visits and, ultimately, to moving her in with us.
Routine maintenance. Your parents may no longer be able to handle routine maintenance like snow shoveling, raking, or fixing leaky faucets. Do you need to schedule a family work day or hire a handyman?
One family of seven drives their RV to the husband’s parents’ home two and one-half hours away every two weeks. They live in the RV while doing projects, cleaning, changing sheets, etc. The wife and daughters cook up favorite recipes in small portions for the freezer. They ask questions about family history and the children do skits around a campfire and eat S’mores with their aging grandparents. Another sibling has hired help to come in a few days each week and a meal delivery service two days a week. Eventually the parents will require fulltime care, but this family has found creative ways to help them in the meantime.
Keep in touch. Keep in touch with your parents. Schedule regular visits or phone calls. Skype with them or send pictures of the grandchildren if they are online. Loneliness is one of the great curses of old age, but many parents are too polite to tell you how they feel, not wishing to interfere with your busy life. Brainstorm for ways you can let your parents know how important they are to you.2
1. See Home-Based Eldercare: Stories and Strategies for Caregivers by Marcia K. Washburn (www.ChristianFamilyEldercare.org) for detailed instructions for assembling this essential collection of information.↩
2. See 52 Ways to Show Aging Parents You Care by Tracy Green and Todd Temple (Thomas Nelson: 1992) for more suggestions.↩
© 2016 by Marcia K. Washburn who writes from her home in Colorado. Through the years, Marcia has cared for four adult relatives in her home, and presently cares for her mother-in-law who has Alzheimer Disease. Marcia is the Assistant Director of Christian Family Eldercare. Her book, Home-Based Eldercare: Stories and Strategies for Caregivers, is available at ChristianFamilyEldercare.org.