Is your aging parent safe in their home?
It can be tough to answer this question. Monitoring a parent’s health and safety at home can be complicated because you don’t want to step on any toes and you certainly don’t want to make them feel defensive. On top of all that, how do you know what to look for to see if they’re safe in their current home?
Often, this delicate balancing act is further complicated when children of senior parents live out of the area. It’s hard enough to walk that fine line between caring and overbearing when you see your parent in person, but over the phone? Much, much harder.
Here are some tips to consider when remote monitoring your elderly parent to help you maintain that balance.
Long-Distance Caregiving Tips for Out-Of-State Children of Senior Parents
1. Check in Regularly
Try to call, email, or text your parent on a routine basis. You don’t have to check in every day (your parent might feel a bit smothered if you do), but it may be helpful to arrange a certain time every week to chat with your parent so you can make sure everything’s okay.
While you don’t want to make your parent feel like they’re being interrogated or as if you’re questioning their abilities, you can work certain questions into the conversation to try to gauge if there are any changes in their health or home environment that might be a concern.
- Have you seen [Friend’s Name] recently? Isolation is a pressing issue amongst the older adult population. This question and questions like it can help you tell if your parent is experiencing loneliness.
- What did you do yesterday? This might be a question you ask naturally in conversation. The answer is more important than you might think, though. It’s normal to experience some memory loss as we age and your parent might not remember exactly what they did yesterday. But if they struggle to answer simple questions like that or “what did you have for breakfast?”, it may be a sign that they’re experiencing memory loss that could be dementia.
- What are you doing for dinner tonight? Again, this is a nice, casual question that you may ask in the course of your phone call with your parent. Pay close attention to how they answer. If they answer that they’re going out to eat or heating up a frozen meal every time you ask this question, that might be cause for concern, especially if they used to be avid cooks. It might be a sign that they are no longer able to cook in the kitchen, or it might just be that they no longer want the hassle. Either way, there are solutions, which we’ll go over at the end of this blog.
2. Build a Team
The reality is, you’re miles away from your parents. That’s not something to feel guilty about—you have your own life to live—but it’s a fact that’s going to come into play as you take care of your aging parent.
The good news is, there are plenty of people living close to your parent who can step in to help do the things you can’t physically do yourself. This is why one of the things AARP recommends for long-distance caregivers of senior parents is to build a team.
Here’s how AARP advises you put together a top-notch team for your loved one:
- Include friends and family members. If you have family in the area, ask if they would be willing to be there for your parent, whether that’s by dropping by for a visit once a week to make sure everything’s okay or helping around the house once in a while.
If your parent doesn’t have family in the area, do they have friends who would be willing to be involved? If they don’t have friends in the area with whom they feel comfortable enough to involve with something like this, another option is a geriatric care manager. A geriatric care manager is someone you can hire to check in on your parent, hire home personnel, and evaluate living arrangements.
Remember, your parent is part of the team. They’re likely still relatively active and independent, so be careful that you’re not imposing any unwanted help.
- Determine roles. Those friends and family members mentioned above may be more than willing to help, but it’s helpful for everyone to know exactly what their roles are so everything’s covered.
For example, AARP says “a neighbor might be happy to cut the lawn, while another family member might volunteer to drive to doctor’s appointments.” Talk with your parent to see if there’s anything they would like help with, then plan accordingly.
- Keep a roster. If you want to be the central hub of this team so you’re kept informed of any issues with your parents (issues that they may not be willing to share directly with you), it helps to give your contact information to family members and friends in the area, doctors, and any hired help.
It’s also a good idea to keep a list of contact information for the team you’ve assembled so you can get in touch with them if there’s ever a problem—for example, if your parent doesn’t pick up the phone for a day or two, you can call someone to see if it’s because they left the phone off the hook or if it’s something more serious.
3. Know the Warning Signs
Based on the questions you ask on your phone calls with your parents and the feedback you hear from your team, you may start to feel that it’s no longer the best arrangement for your parent (or parents) to live at home on their own.
Some signs might be:
- A fall or recent illness
- Difficulty keeping up with home maintenance
- Significant weight changes or changes in diet
- Increased isolation
- Hygiene changes
Also, you may want to keep an eye out for any memory problems. It may just be normal memory loss, but it might be caused by dementia. You can learn more about the difference between age-related memory loss and dementia here.
Finding the Right Solution
Now, if you start to become concerned that your parent is no longer able to remain safe and healthy at home, does that mean they need to go to a nursing home?
These days, seniors have numerous options when they are no longer able to or no longer feel safe at home. There are many different senior living options to choose from (for more on that, download the guide below).
One option might be independent living. Independent living is perfect for active older adults who are healthy and able to live on their own terms. It provides flexible dining programs, housekeeping, maintenance-free living, and more so they’re free to continue their lifestyle without any burdens.
Another option is assisted living, which is for seniors who need a bit more help with daily activities. This is why it’s important to get to the “why” behind some of the changes you see. If they start making frozen meals instead of fresh dinners, is it because they don’t want the hassle of cooking? If so, independent living would be perfect. Or, is it because they struggle to get around the kitchen? If that’s the case, assisted living would likely be more appropriate.
This blog has covered a lot of ground, but we hope all of it was helpful. If you have more questions, feel free to explore other topics on our blog or contact us.