Adult children caring for an aging parent have at least one thing in common: unrelenting anxiety over their loved one’s day-to-day well being and safety. If the older person in question has a memory impairment or disability, there is even more reason to worry.
Often, adult children find themselves caught in a difficult grey area: with some supervision and in-home care, mom or dad could stay put. On the other hand, moving to a long-term care facility would ensure proper care and safety. What to do?
It is important to discuss plans and options sooner rather than later so that everyone knows what to expect. A general guideline is to match the environment to whatever your loved one’s abilities are at the time. The goal is to maintain his/her function at the highest level possible. As mom or dad change, you can adapt the environment accordingly. After 13 years working in long-term care at Bethany Village, I have counseled many adult children caught in the throes of what to do about mom or dad. If an elderly person is not ready for long-term care, but needs some safety precautions at home, here are 10 good places to start:
1. Remove all firearms. It should go without saying, a person whose thinking is impaired, whether by memory loss or depression, should have never have access to firearms.
2. Devise a medication plan. It’s easy enough to forget to take a pill or to take a double dose when you are young. Older folks, who often take many medications on a variety of different schedules, may need extra help sorting and organizing their pills.
3. Encourage a smoking cessation plan. Cigarettes and tobacco products are unhealthy for all the obvious reasons – plus smoking is a fire hazard. With the loss of short-term memory, a smoker will eventually forget to light up, but the body will still react to the loss of nicotine, which is an addictive drug. Talk to the doctor about how to wean your loved one off nicotine.
4. Make the bathroom accessible. Install grab bars and a raised toilet seat with handles. A walk-in shower is much safer than a tub or shower that requires stepping up and over a threshold. Be sure to regulate the temperature of the hot water down by adjusting the hot water heater.
5. Remove hazards. Many houseplants are poisonous. People with impaired memory sometimes try to eat plants, so it’s best to remove them. Disable the locks on interior doors, especially the bathroom door. Older people sometimes become paranoid and lock themselves in a room.
6. Adapt the kitchen stove. If you fear that your parent will leave the stove or oven on, arrange to have a timer installed that will turn it off after a given time – such as 30 minutes. Eventually, you may have to disconnect the stove.
7. Take the keys – and the car. Sometimes, asking a parent to give up the car keys isn’t enough. Eventually, you may have to remove the car from the premises.
8. Use electronic helpers. If your mom or dad tends to wander, consider using a GPS tracking device. If you are worried about what’s happening when you are not on the premises, consider installing a “nanny cam” that you can monitor from your computer or Smartphone.
9. Reach out for help. Make sure the neighbors, friends and groups like your loved one’s church members are aware of the situation. In addition, take advantage of resources such as the Alzheimer’s Association and support groups.
10. Take care of yourself. If you live with your mom or dad, look into adult daycare for a respite. It’s important to step away now and then to restore your body and spirit. Taking better care of yourself ultimately means better care for mom or dad.
If you have questions or concerns about how to make decisions regarding care and safety for your parents, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.