If you are a long distance caregiver, or just don’t live close enough to visit your parents on a regular basis, you may not have enough time to evaluate how they are doing. Here are some ways to maximize your visits so that you get quality time but also check in on their ability to safely live independently.
Leave the House
This may sound like an odd suggestion, but I worked with many families who were very close and the adult children visited regularly, however, they had no idea that their parent had a hard time getting out of the house. Whether the parent had front steps that didn’t have a railing or were using a walker that couldn’t be maneuvered down the steps, there are many hazards that make it difficult for a person with mobility challenges to safely exit their home.
Even if your parent is homebound, being able to exit the home is critical to their safety. What if there is a fire? What if they forget about their limitation and try to go out for a walk. Are they able to exit and enter the house from all exits? You never know what situation could arise, so planning ahead can keep your parent safe.
This is also a great opportunity to evaluate your parent’s driving. Perhaps you ask them to drive you to the grocery store or bakery for a treat. Riding in the car with them will give you a better perspective of their driving ability.
You won’t just get to learn your mother’s special pasta sauce recipe, you’ll also be able to see if she is safely able to maneuver her kitchen. Does she have the heavy pots on a high shelf? Help her find a new, easier location to store them. Are the knobs on the stove difficult to turn on/off due to arthritis? Look into new knobs or a hack to help make it easier to use.
While you’re in the kitchen, check the refrigerator for old or expired food and the food supply, in general. Is the refrigerator bare? Why? Does your parent have a hard time getting out to shop or is he/she becoming forgetful about stocking necessities. I once worked with a woman who had dementia who bought soda every time we went to the store, but she never actually drank soda. She had six packs stacked in her pantry. Do you see any oddities that were never an issue before?
Do a little digging to find out why. It may be that your parent struggles with carrying groceries into the house, so isn’t able to buy much. You may want to consider setting up online grocery delivery, or at minimum, delivery of heavier pantry items.
Allow Them to Host You
Sometimes, when we see our parents looking more frail, our instinct is to jump in and do everything. It is a wonderful gesture, but the problem is, you can’t be sure of their capabilities if you don’t watch them operate independently in their own home. Let your parent set the table, turn off the stove, clear the table (with your help of course!).
Watch to see if they are struggling with any tasks. You may be able to come up with solutions together on how to simplify tasks or you may need to consider bringing help into their home.
Get One Step Ahead
- Are there any burned out light bulbs? Change them while you are visiting so that your parent won’t attempt to do it on his/her own.
- Is the season changing? If so, ask your parent if they have blankets or clothing that is stored up high that they may need help bringing down.
- Are tall bookshelves strapped to the wall? You may want to consider using earthquake safety straps so that they are secure. If your parent trips and grabs a bookshelf to stop their fall, you want to be sure they are nicely secured to the wall and don’t come down on top of them.
- If they are reaching for books or items on high shelves, make sure they have a sturdy step ladder with a handrail – and that they actually use it!
- Have they suddenly be-friended someone new who seems to be over-involved in their lives? Do you notice money or valuables missing? Don’t just look for physical safety risks, evaluate their fraud risk as well.
What other things can you think of to make a pre-emptive “strike” to ensure your parent is making dangerous decisions?
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