As a Baby Boomer, my memories of sharing the holidays with my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins seem not too long ago. It makes perfect sense to remember times when Santa brought presents, holiday music filled the air and the neighborhood was decorated with lights. Leaving cookies and milk out for Santa and believing he only had time to take a bite or two was so convincing. The only part that puzzled me was how he got his fat tummy down the chimney? This year I will be turning the big 6-0 and have come to realize my own mother is turning 83. We couldn’t be together for the holidays this year, but my brother returned from a visit and called to give me his opinion about her ability to live alone. So far it is just five years of dust, a refrigerator growing its own food and the car has a few unexplained dents. So, here it begins, our first encounter witnessing Mother needing outside help at home. Hiring a housekeeper will be a simple matter. Then comes the driving issue and then her health and safety, and then … Yikes! Make it stop.I have spent my career working with elders and their families. I am always ready with advice. But, somehow hadn’t thought about what I was going to do once I found myself facing the same issues. Plus, I am also in the tough situation of living far away from my mother. Since phone conversations do not paint a true picture, I decided to jot down a few tips and recommendations for those of us beginning this journey of taking care of our parents. Elderly parents living alone and miles away:• Notify neighbors, church members and the physician you are concerned and would appreciate them sending you updates periodically. Especially if anyone notices any radical changes.• Recruit one person to visit the home once every month or two to ensure things are in good order (soiled food, poor personal hygiene, doors are locked, vehicle does not have any fresh dents, pets are being cared for, laundry and linens are cleaned regularly and the place is not a fire hazard)• It is also wise to have someone verify if driving skills are not compromised. Upon request, DMV will conduct an on the road driving test. • Begin talking about the changes and your concerns. Start planting the seed to move closer to family or taking up residence in a senior complex or Assisted Living community. • Make sure your parents know you are concerned and worried for their safety and care. Often times the parents resent the fact their independence is being threatened so make it more about you than them.• The possibility of loneliness, depression or even early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s may be a factor as well. Contact the physician and get a proper testing, diagnosis, medications and treatment.• If medications are not being managed properly, the side effects of too many or not enough doses can cause major changes in behavior, fall risks and other serious medical conditions. • Test to see if your elderly parent knows what medications they are taking, how many and what time of the day. If they get confused explaining them, you know there is a problem. • Talk to a pharmacist to see if medications can be bubble packed for each day of the month instead of bottles. • An emergency Life Alert call system is very affordable and will provide you with some peace of mind knowing help is on the way. However, most of the time the call button is not on the person when they need it because our parents believe they are just fine and nothing will happen. Wrong!I hope a few of these ideas will help create a safer place for our aging parents so they can live an independent lifestyle as long as possible. I plan to adopt them, and also update you on how things are going. It may buy us a few more years before realty hits us square between the eyes and we are now taking care of the people who once took care of us.May 2013 bring us hope, courage and a better understanding to provide the support and care our elders deserve. • Karen Perry is the executive director of The Lodge Assisted Living Facility in Carson City.
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