Sometimes we slowly creep into the caregiver role, and as time goes on, you find yourself caring for your elderly parents at home more and more. Other aging parents may have an illness or accident resulting in them needing help. In this post we review 10 tips for caring for elderly parents.
Caring for Elderly Parents at Home
Most older adults want to stay home but may need help to do so safely. When your parent chooses to live at home rather than go to an assisted living or other facility, it is referred to as ‘aging in place.’
Almost 90% of adults over 50 years old want to remain home and age in place. It is wonderful when families step in and help parents stay home to age in place.
However, being a caregiver is challenging and stressful at times and can lead to caregiver burnout. With that in mind, remember your health is important too. For more information about self-care, please read our blog post, Self-Care Tips for Caregivers.
Caring for an Elderly Parent: 10 Expert Tips
1. Develop a Plan
A good start is to assess the needs of your parent. What type of help do they need, and how frequently.
Consider whether they need help with the following:
- Personal care, like showering, shaving, dressing, or brushing teeth.
- Laundry, including washing clothes, putting them away, and ironing.
- Meals, including preparing meals, help eating, grocery list, and food shopping.
- Housekeeping, including keeping the house clean, yard work, and snow shoveling.
- Transportation, including medical appointments, shopping, and socializing.
- Medical appointments, including making appointments, getting to them, and understanding how to manage their medical conditions.
- Medication management, including understanding what medications they are taking, ordering refills, picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy, and taking medications as prescribed.
Caregiving is a tough job, so ideally, talk to any family or friends willing to help, so you are not trying to juggle everything yourself. It is good to have a family meeting and discuss who will be responsible for each task.
2. Safety Checks
- Difficulty with balance and walking
- Weakness in your lower body
- Some medicines can make you feel dizzy or affect your balance
- Problems with your vision
- Foot pain or your choice of footwear
- Home safety hazards, like slippery floors or poor lighting
When caring for your elderly parents at home, think about ways you can reduce their risk of falling. You can help your elderly parent’s risk for falls in a few ways.
- You can talk to their doctor and ask them to evaluate your parent’s risk of falling and discuss what can help. This should include looking at your elderly parent’s medications and understanding which could cause sleepiness, drowsiness, or dizziness.
- Your elderly parent should have routine eye exams and update glasses if necessary.
- The home should be clear of trip hazards such as throw rugs. Steps inside and outside should be secure and have hand railings on both sides of the stairs.
- Grab bars can be beneficial in the bathroom, particularly near the toilet and shower.
- Good lighting inside and outside is essential.
In addition to fall risk, there are other ways to help your elderly parent stay safe. For example:
- Keep emergency numbers by their phone. This includes 911, poison control, their doctor’s number, and a family or friend to call if they need something.
- Protect against fire by making sure your elderly parent is safe cooking. Replace smoke detector (and carbon monoxide) monitor batteries twice a year. In addition, heaters should be at least 3 feet from anything that could burn.
- Make sure doors and windows have the appropriate locks.
- Talk to your elderly parent about scams so they don’t share personal information with scammers or get pressured into making purchases.
3. Medication Management
As we age, we tend to take more medications, which increases our risk of having a harmful interaction or adverse side effects. We also may become more forgetful and skip doses or take the wrong medication accidentally. When caring for your elderly parents at home, consider helping them with their medications.
There are some things you can do to help your elderly parents manage their medications safely, including:
- Make a list of all medications, including over-the-counter ones. Keep the list updated and ensure your parent knows where it is. Include the name of the prescribing doctor and the renewal date. Your parent can also bring the list to appointments, so they don’t have to remember the name of each medication they take. Additionally, a list could be helpful to first responders in the event of an emergency.
- Have a pharmacist review all the medications your parent is on and check for any interactions. Make sure you both understand what each medication is for and any potential side effects.
- Organize medications, so your parent takes them as prescribed. Many use pillbox organizers and fill them every week.
- Order refills timely, so your parent doesn’t run out of medication. Having a list of medications can make this easier if you add a column with the renewal date.
- Monitor for any medication side effects. In addition, some medications require monitoring values like blood glucose levels, blood pressure, or weight, for example.
- Ensure your parent’s doctor is aware of any side effects, or if any medication is not working, let them know if a medication change is necessary.
4. Medical Appointments
Studies indicate patients don’t remember or understand as much as 80% of the recommendations and decisions made during discussions with their doctor. Patients forget this vital information for various reasons, including stress, too much information provided verbally, or old age impacting our ability to remember.
Some tips to help your elderly parents get the most out of their doctor visits include:
- Going to medical appoints prepared with notes is helpful. This way, when the health care provider is asking how things are going, your parent is not going by how they feel just at that moment.
- Writing down any questions before the visit helps ensure your parent does not forget to ask pertinent questions.
- If your elderly parent has difficulty understanding medical information, you may want to accompany them on their medical appointments.
- Put medical appointments in a calendar, so your parent does not forget they have one.
- If needed, help you parent schedule appointments.
For more information on preparing for medical appointments, please read our post: How to Prepare for a Doctor Visit.
It’s a good idea to evaluate transportation when caring for your elderly parents at home. As we age, our vision may deteriorate, our reflexes may slow, our mobility may decrease, and our memories may fade. These issues, and our declining health in general, can make some transportation unsafe for your elderly parent.
Age alone doesn’t mean you have to give up driving, but it is good to monitor your parent’s driving abilities to ensure they are safe behind the wheel. Some warning signs your parent may be an unsafe driver include:
- Delayed response times
- Difficulty staying in the correct lane
- Hitting curbs or other things like garages or the mailbox
- Becoming forgetful or easily distracted
- Having frequent close calls or getting dents in the car
- Not driving the appropriate speed for road conditions
If you have concerns about your elderly parent’s driving, it is common to feel uneasy about having a conversation with your parent about it. Your parent has been driving for many years and may not want to lose their independence.
To help prepare for this conversation, AARP offers a free online seminar, We Need to Talk. The seminar provides tips about what to discuss during the conversation and possible solutions to your parent’s transportation needs.
The types of transportation available for the elderly vary depending on your location. The usual public transportation like a bus or trolley may not be a safe option for your elderly parent.
Public transportation agencies are required to provide complementary paratransit service for those who cannot use regular public transportation if they meet the requirements. Use the Eldercare locator online or call the Eldercare Locator at (800) 677-1116 to help you find what transit options your elderly parent has.
6. Important Paperwork
Help with Mail and Paying Bills
You may notice your parent struggling to keep up with their mail or forgetting to make payments. If so, you may consider asking them if they need help. You can sit with them and help them organize their mail and pay their bills.
Organize Important Documents
Important documents are often needed, for example, when applying for benefits or making payments. Sometimes the need for them arises unexpectedly. Keeping them organized makes them easier to access.
Some important documents include:
- Birth Certificate
- Marriage Certificate and Divorce Records
- Social Security Card
- Military Service Records include DD214
- Financial information, including banking, insurance, account information (retirement accounts, pensions, annuities, stocks, brokerage accounts, etc.)
- Deeds, titles, mortgage information
- Vehicle title, registration, and insurance
- Credit card information
- Tax returns
- Health insurance
- Advance care directives, for example, health care proxy or living will
- Power of attorney
- Estate planning documents, for example, will, trust, life insurance, funeral requests, beneficiary designations for all financial accounts.
Having these documents in one place, for example, in a file cabinet, will make them easier to access when needed.
Consider discussing the following with your elderly parents:
- Updating beneficiaries periodically, if needed, on all financial documents.
- Advance care planning: Advance care planning documents come into effect if your elderly parent cannot make their health care decisions. For example, having a health care proxy means you appoint someone to make your health care decisions (if you no longer can). In addition, a living will is a document that specifies what type of health care you would want if you are unable to communicate your wishes (e.g., a ventilator to help you breathe or tube feedings). Having advance care planning makes your wishes clear. Therefore, during a crisis, the family will not have to make complicated decisions. Please read our post Advance Care Planning: The Complete Guide to read more information about advance care planning.
- Power of attorney: Power of attorney is written authorization to act on behalf of another for personal, business, financial or legal affairs. A power of attorney can be beneficial when someone cannot pay bills or needs help with paperwork.
There are different types of power of attorney. For more information about power of attorney, including what they are and what they can do, please read our post: Power of Attorney: The Complete Guide.
7. Healthy Lifestyle
Helping your elderly parent maintain a healthy lifestyle is invaluable. The benefits of eating healthy and regular exercise are well documented.
The elderly face more challenges to eating healthy, for example:
- They may live alone or have difficulty getting around.
- Health conditions may make it harder to grocery shop, prepare meals, or feed themselves.
- They may not be able to afford nutritious food
- Medications can give someone a dry mouth, change how food tastes or decrease one’s appetite.
- Medical conditions can cause difficulty chewing or swallowing, fatigue, or decreased sense of taste or smell.
- To help your elderly parent get nutritious meals, you can:
- Ask someone to help with grocery shopping and preparing meals, maybe every week
- Look into grocery delivery services, like Instacart.
There are meal delivery services that deliver nutritious, prepared meals
Meals on wheels delivers free or low-cost meals in most communities in the U.S. Plug in your parent’s zip code for the meals on wheels program near you.
Physical activity is critical to healthy aging. Not only can it help prevent some health conditions, but it can also keep your muscles strong so you can do your daily activities and maintain independence. Some things to consider to help your elderly parent include:
- Encourage them to move more, sit less
- Before starting any exercise program, make sure they have medical clearance.
- Join a walking club
- Chair yoga
- Swimming or water aerobics
- Resistance band workouts
8. Social Interaction
When caring for your elderly parents at home, consider whether they are interacting with others. Some ideas to help your parent socialize more include:
- Encourage phone calls and video chatting
- Senior Planet is an organization that offers free online classes and programs for seniors. For example, they offer exercise classes, a book club, and practical courses on learning things like listening to podcasts.
- Most areas have a local community senior center. They usually offer activities like exercise, classes, and special events.
- There are usually various volunteer opportunities for seniors, so your elderly parent could volunteer to do something suitable to their activity level.
- An elderly companion can visit with your parent. You can usually find elderly companions through local community services, like Senior Corps, which volunteers help seniors. Your local church may also have volunteers who visit the elderly
9. Community Resources
There are community resources available to help seniors who want to live independently in the community. When caring for your elderly parents at home, see what community resources are available to help them. Researching available resources and finding what community helps your elderly parent qualifies for is invaluable. Your parent receives the necessary care, and you have some burden lifted. Being a caregiver is demanding, so it’s important to take advance of any resources available that help you care for your parent.
For a comprehensive review of community resources that may be very helpful, please read our blog post: What are community Resources and How to Find Them.
For example, some community organizations available to help your elderly parent include:
Area Agency on Aging
A good starting point to find available elderly care resources is your localArea Agency on Aging. Some AAA will have a care coordinator come to the house and assess what services the senior may need and help coordinate services.
Each county has a local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) that helps coordinate services for seniors that want to stay living in the home.
For an interactive tool that is responsive to finding resources in your community, check out BenefitsCheckUp.Org. They can provide information on available resources in your area for such things as medication assistance, income assistance, housing and utilities, transportation, tax relief, veteran assistance, and more.
Aunt Bertha’s social network, now called Findhelp.org, is a vast social network that connects people and programs.
Although caregiving can be rewarding, you may also feel angry, frustrated, sad, tired or alone. The emotional and physical demands of caring for your elderly parents at home can be exhausting and may even lead to caregiver burnout. A lot of stress, especially long term, can harm your health. That’s why it’s essential to take care of yourself.
Some self-care tips include:
- Take care of your health so that you can be healthy and strong. Keep doctor appointments as recommended, and make eating healthy, exercise, and quality sleep priorities.
- Ask for help and accept help from others.
- Manage stress by identifying triggers and take action to reduce stressors. For more information about stress, including signs and symptoms, common triggers, how it affects our body, and more, please read our blog post: What is Stress? Common Questions.
- Be compassionate and kind to yourself. Give yourself credit for all the hard work you do and step away from your self-critical voice.
- Stay socially connected, so you don’t feel isolated and prevent caregiver burnout.
- Make time for yourself and your needs.
For more information about caregiver self-care, including how to implement it into your daily routine, read our blog post: Self-Care Tips for Caregivers.
For more information about caregiver burnout and fatigue, including common causes, symptoms, and more, read our blog post: Caregiver Burnout & Caregiver Fatigue.
Can you Get Paid for Caring for Your Parents?
There are some circumstances when you can get paid for taking care of your parents or other family members. For more information on ways to get paid for caring for you parents, please read our blog post Family Caregiver Pay: Can a Family Caregiver Get Paid?
For those caring for a parent with a dementia, like Alzheimer’s Disease, your parent has additional needs because of their cognitive decline.
Please read our blog post: Dementia Caregivers – Home Care for Dementia Patients.
End of Life Care
When caring for a parent who is terminally ill, we have some tips for end of life care.
For information about end of life signs and symptoms and what comfort measures you can implement to help your parent, please read our blog post: Comfort Home Care and End of Life Signs and Symptoms
For a comprehensive post about end of life, including end of life decisions, hospice care vs. palliative care, what happens at end of life, and tips for physical, emotion and spiritual end of life care, please read our post: End of Life Care: The Complete Guide
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