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Guidelines on Caring for Aging Parents

America” increases, more children are taking care of their aging parents. If you or someone you know is concerned with caring for aging parents, the remainder of this article provides helpful guidelines.

Assessing the Situation
Your first step should be to talk to your parents and help them realistically assess their living situation. Discuss all issues openly and address any problems or struggles you see. Here are some specific issues to explore.

• Is your parent eating well, exercising appropriately and getting enough social contact? Proper nutrition, exercise, and socializing go a long way to eliminating or reducing many of the medical and psychosocial problems associated with aging.

• Is your parent’s living environment safe? Many older Americans are injured in and around their homes, and many of these injuries could have been avoided by correcting common hazards, which include: improper location of electrical and phone cords; outdated electrical outlets and switches; improper wattage for light fixtures; improperly secured rugs, runners and mats; improper location of smoke detectors; rundown batteries in smoke detectors; unsafe use of space heaters; lack of an emergency exit plan; lack of clearly posted emergency numbers; poor lighting; and falls caused by not using a sturdy stepstool.

• Is your parent prepared financially? A complete review of your parent’s financial situation will help identify potential problem areas. At a minimum, make sure you understand all sources of income, assets and debts. Review medical and insurance coverage to ensure it is adequate. Find out if your parent has a will, living will and power of attorney and where these documents are located. If these documents don’t exist, discuss the need for them.

• How is your parent’s mental and physical health? Monitor your parent closely for changes in physical and mental health. Be aware of any medications that your parent is taking and consult your parent’s health care provider regarding any specific requirements. Ask your parent’s health care provider whether your parent should get a flu shot before flu season begins (usually November). In addition, the U.S. Public Health Service recommends a one-time pneumonia shot for people aged 65 and older or for those at risk for a chronic disease. Ask your parent’s health care provider for details.

Getting Support
Keep in mind that you cannot always provide the care your parent needs on your own. Many support services are available to help your parent live comfortably and safely at home. Most seniors prefer to live at home because of the familiar network of friends, places and routines. Home care agencies and volunteer groups can help your parents remain at home. Another alternative is service-oriented housing options such as retirement homes, which include independent housing, assisted living and nursing homes. Advantages of these facilities include security, professional health care and built-in social activities.

Finally, caring for an aging parent can be very stressful. Recognize that you, as a caregiver, will also need support in order to avoid burnout. To cope with the stresses of caregiving, consider joining a caregiver support group, explore resources available through your work (such as flex time or counseling), share responsibility with other family members (such as siblings and older children), and consider respite care services offered by home care agencies.

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