Put Together a Proactive Plan to Help Parents Age in Place
Written by Lynda Shrager
It isn’t easy watching mom and dad start to slow down and struggle with regular routines. At the same time, it’s also likely that they reject any offers of help or changes to their lifestyle. Forcing the issue will only lead to hurt feelings and stalemates. But with patience and tact, it’s possible to help mom and dad remain safely in their home for as long as possible.
Research shows that 87 percent of people over 65 prefer to spend their senior years in their homes. Aging in place has psychological benefits for seniors as it allows them to remain socially active in their communities. It also saves on finances, as assisted living facilities cost an average of $45,000 annually ($3,750 per month).
To make the option viable, you’ll need to go on a fact-finding mission. Spend time with mom and dad as they move through their daily routine. Are they unsteady on the steps? Are stove burners left on? Did their lost car keys end up in the refrigerator?
Once you’ve gathered your facts, it’s time to make your case. While parents are never eager to hear that their abilities are becoming compromised, a presentation of your findings — within the context of addressing trouble spots so they can stay in their home safely — will help get them on board.
Here are some issues you may need to address when sitting down with your parents to devise a plan:
1. Make modifications to aid mobility. Point out where you’ve observed any instability in your parents’ movement as they walk through their daily routines. Share ways to address how to improve safety and facilitate their mobility. Installing a handrail along the steps will improve stair-use stability. Insist on a safe step stool with one step only. If they often use hard-to-access items, move them to a counter or tabletop.
2. Attack the clutter. Mementos often make a house feel like a home. But cherished keepsakes accumulated over the years turn into clutter that takes up precious space needed for moving around the house safely. Disorganization also contributes to stress. To help make the case for decluttering, role-play with your parents: Imagine that you are first-time guests in the house. Using fresh eyes, ask them to notice where stacks of paper have piled up, dusty trinkets have collected and miscellaneous items have accumulated. Tackle the clutter in stages — taking on one closet or cupboard at a time, so the task doesn’t become overwhelming.
3. Improve the lighting. Good lighting is a key safety feature. As we age, we need more light in order to see adequately. Help mom and dad increase the wattage of light bulbs in high-use areas. For hard to reach lamps, consider those that operate with a clap for turning on and off. A nightlight to illuminate the path from the bed to the bathroom is an important precaution.
4. Delegate financial and household duties. If you sense your parents are becoming overwhelmed with managing the bills and general household maintenance, your plan should extend to how best to delegate these duties. It may be time to assemble a team of helpers. Do they have a handyman who can make regular calls? Are neighbors available to help with snow shoveling? Finances may need to be relegated to a family member to whom they give power of attorney. It’s now easy to remotely assist them by setting up online banking and automatic bill payments. Help them create a “treasure map” of where important records, documents and belongings are kept.
5. Keep emergency numbers close at hand. Help mom and dad create an emergency list with contact information for physicians, caregivers, the local hospital — plus contact information of all family, friends and neighbors who live close enough to get to them quickly. Both of you should keep the list accessible at all times, and make sure to keep it updated.
We tend to be complacent while our parents are doing well. But no one thinks they’ll get sick until they get sick, or become injured until they fall. If you see potential problems, head them off with an acceptable plan on which everyone agrees.
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