How to Help Aging Parents From Afar

In today's mobile society, many adult children face the dilemma of helping out their aging parents from afar.

And the holiday season, with the annual trip home to visit grandma and grandpa, presents an excellent opportunity for children to evaluate their parents and how well they're doing on their own.

"What's great about holidays and family gatherings are that people are together for an extended period of time and can often identify areas of concern that they would not otherwise see," says Charles Puchta, author of The Aging America Resource Guide and its accompanying Web site, www.agingusa.com. "So often people can keep their guard up for a short time, but not for a longer time, so all of a sudden more things are visible."

So common is this annual pilgrimage home that the U.S. Administration on Aging has just released a guide for adult children designed to help initiate discussions about the future with their parents during their holiday visit.

Called Face the Facts: Topics to Discuss Now with Your Aging Parents (available at 800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov) , the guide is a checklist of financial, legal and health insurance considerations and questions for children and their parents to go over.

Universal Questions

Although situations vary greatly from family to family and resources vary widely depending on where parents live, there are certain universals to be addressed. First is your parents' ability to live independently, according to Karen Stevenson Brown, publisher of www.elderweb.com, a 10-year-old Web site with eldercare information. That starts with their home — how accessible is it? Will there be a need to remodel or even move?

Another question: How well do they drive? Is a drive with them frightening? Have they had fender benders? Would an AARP Driver Safety class, one designed for drivers 50 and over, help? Should they limit their driving? The physical consequences of aging mean that mass transit isn't always a viable alternative. Some communities have driving services that will help seniors.

Other things Puchta recommends checking during that visit home include the contents of the refrigerator to see how well parents are eating, signs of bills piling up or mail not dealt with, mood changes such as depression or irritability, their ability to manage their medications, and other telltale signs they may need help.

If one parent is healthy and the other ill or disabled, there's the task of managing the caregiver. Here, responsibilities include scheduling breaks for the caregiver, which could mean having relatives or professional aides fill in or checking the ill parent into respite care. It's also important to monitor the caregiver's own health and wellbeing as well as his or her true capability to care for a beloved partner.

Arranging and paying for homecare is another major hurdle. In some instances, Medicare will often cover in-home nursing care if a doctor orders it or because a parent has recently been hospitalized. But if it's a matter of having someone watch over mom or dad because they have Alzheimer's, it's more likely that you or your family will foot the bill for that. Some long-term health-care policies cover such care, but it varies greatly from policy to policy.

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