As we age, or as our parents age, it becomes more and more challenging to live independently. Day to day tasks, can become more difficult. Here are some tips on what adult children or caregivers can do to help your elderly loved one live independently.

  1. Keep a current medical record for your elderly parents. Summarize all past illnesses, surgeries, hospitalizations and tests. Note any current medical conditions, medications and prescribing physicians. Organize all health insurance cards, Medicare, Supplemental, Medicaid and other insurance information. Keep this information on hand for doctor’s visits and emergency situations. And, create a medical history for yourself, as well.
  2. Make a list of all your parents’ doctors, dentists and other medical specialists with their addresses and phone numbers. Add any caregivers, lawyers, therapists, business partners, financial advisors, accountants, bankers, spiritual advisors and insurance agents. Keep all this contact information in one place.
  3. Keep a complete list of medications your parents are taking including prescription drugs, over the counter medications, vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies. Write down the dosages and times of day they are taken and note how the drugs should be taken. Are they taken with food? Should particular activities be avoided such as driving or sunbathing? Note the conditions being treated by each medication along with any possible side effects or allergic reactions. Make a note of the prescribing physician.
  4. Even if your elderly parents are in good health, it is essential to be prepared. Establish a local support network. Make a list of friends, family members and neighbors who live nearby. Determine who can take over as caregiver if you are not available. Keep names and phone numbers with you and post a copy in an obvious place in your parents’ home like next to the telephone in the kitchen or bedroom. Leave a duplicate copy of house keys along with a summary of important information about your parent’s health with a trusted neighbor or friend. Your loved one will feel more secure when you are not around and you’ll both know someone nearby can take over if there is an emergency.
  5. Help your loved ones stay mentally fit by introducing them to puzzles and brain games designed especially for older people. Encourage them to visit with friends or attend the local senior center so they remain as active as possible. When you are together, discuss current events and other topics of interest as a way of keeping your loved one engaged and keeping track of their alertness and well being.
  6. Be sure your parent has an updated and valid will, a durable power of attorney and advanced directives including a living will and that you know where they are. In the event of a medical crisis or if your loved one is no longer mentally competent, it will be critical to have these documents on hand so their medical care and other matters can proceed according to their wishes.
  7. If you are the primary care giver of your elderly or frail parent, be sure to look after yourself, as well. Periodically, arrange with a friend or relative to take over for a few hours so you can have time off without worrying. Caregiving companies such as Havenwood can offer respite care to help even if it’s just for a couple hours, or even 24-hour care. Caregiver burnout is a common syndrome and one you can avoid by taking a break and time for yourself. If you are refreshed, you will be more effective in dealing with your loved one.
  8. Even though your loved one reports that he/she is fine, that may not be the whole story. Be aware of warning signs that things may have changed and your loved one needs your help. Some of these are:
    • Loss of appetite, skipped meals, and/or weight loss
    • Personal hygiene is been neglected, particularly teeth, hands and feet
    • Home recently has become messy and/or dirty
    • Behavioral changes such as becoming unusually quiet or loud, agitated, anxious and/or paranoid
    • Behavioral changes that may indicate prescription medications are being taken incorrectly
    • Friends and/or neighbors express concern about changes in daily patterns or behavior
    • Frequent mishaps at home resulting in burns, bruises and abrasions that may indicate physical weakness, sudden carelessness and/or forgetfulness
    • Change in social habits such as dropping regular bridge games or book clubs or visiting with friends
    • Things piling up unopened mail, unpaid bills, piled up newspapers, unfilled prescriptions and missed appointments and other signs of forgetfulness or disorientation