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If a relative, friend, or other loved one is getting older, it may be harder for them to keep their independence and handle all of their day-to-day tasks on their own. They may require your care to keep them safe and in their home. While some duties may seem obvious, others aren’t always as noticeable. Or, you may not have experience caring for seniors.
These tips for taking care of the elderly include some of the more impactful things you can do to help ensure your loved ones can thrive and enjoy their life.
1. Check-in regularly
While phone calls and letters are always appreciated, it takes an in-person visit to see how the other person is doing. There’s often a fine line between being intrusive and simply being friendly, though, so manage a level of respect and boundaries even as you use your visits to follow up on their safety and health.
Take time to listen to how things are going in their life, offer to do small tasks around the house, and be alert for any signs that they are struggling with basic hygiene, medication management, or nutrition. Even 15 minutes can give you a better sense of their needs and how you can help in the future.
2. Review medications
During your visits, you may find that medications aren’t administered in a timely or consistent fashion. As adults tend to require more prescriptions in older age, it can be overwhelming for even attentive seniors to track which pills to take, when to take them, and when to call in refills.
If you notice that pills are missing, you find extras in the bottle by the time it’s time to refill, or there are pills dropped on the floor or in the trash, it may be time to make some changes. Many easy-to-use automated med reminders are available today, including dispensers that make the task much more manageable. Enlist the help of your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist to find the best solution.
3. Create a safe space
Even if a loved one has lived independently without issues for years, the time may come where minor concerns become big problems. A significant part of caring for older adults is making sure their home is free of common hazards, including trip and fall triggers.
Look for uneven floor surfaces that may make it hard for them to keep their footing, remove any loose rugs, and consider installing handrails or supports in the shower and along stairs. This is also the right time to discuss safety plans for fire, loss of power, and falls. Double-check their carbon monoxide detectors, too, to ensure they work as intended.
4. Have the money talk
Discussing finances may be the tensest or stressful conversation of them all. However, it’s also one of the most important.
Set aside time to talk to your loved ones about how they handle their bills and whether their monthly income covers their needs. It may be necessary to discuss assets upon their passing, too. Look to see that they are storing critical financial documents safely and know where to access important paperwork in the case of an illness or incapacitation. If power of attorney isn’t established yet, make that a priority.
This is also a great time to talk about scams and money-related crimes. Remind your older loved one not to give out any financial account or credit card information over the phone and to never wire money to someone claiming to be in need.
5. Prioritize meals
It can be challenging to get the same satisfaction from food in older years because taste and smell can change. Plus, some of their favorite foods may not be as enjoyable as they once were. In addition to checking the fridge and cupboards to remove expired food when needed, chat about meal planning and nutrition.
If you need to arrange for grocery delivery, help make this happen. Also, consider the role of Meals on Wheels or another community resource to get healthy meals into the home when food prep becomes challenging.
6. Use caution behind the wheel
There’s no set age where it’s no longer safe to drive, but the skills needed to be safe on the road diminish as we grow older. Reflexes, flexibility, and eyesight can decrease over time, making even a simple trip to the store a dangerous situation.
How can you know if it’s time to ask your loved one to hand over the keys? Ride along with them the next time they go out, and observe if they have difficulty managing the trip. Ask them to take a different route than usual.
Many of what we consider “good driving” comes from simply repeating a memorized pattern and may not reflect how well they are processing what’s going on around them. By asking them to drive on a different street, you’ll see any issues to address.
7. Get moving
Exercise has been shown to increase flexibility, balance, strength, and heart health. Talk to your loved one about participating in regular, age-appropriate activities throughout the week, and offer to join them if they seem reluctant. It is one of the best things you can do to help them maintain independence and is recognized as a mood-booster. It’s often tied to a reduction in cognitive decline, too.
From walking to water aerobics to simply using resistance bands in the living room, there are many ways to stay active and support the body as we age—direct any concerns about what’s safe or appropriate to your loved one’s physician.
8. Ask for help when needed
You may not manage care on your own, especially if you have your own family to raise or a full-time career. You can try to handle many day-to-day responsibilities, but eventually, it could become more than you can take.
Taking care of elderly adults requires time, patience, and—in some cases—expertise. If you feel stressed or the relationship is deteriorating due to your duties, look to outsource some tasks. You can hire out for yard work, house cleaning, medication management, and even hygiene. Taking just one of these things off your list can ease the strain felt from caregiving.
Learning how to care for an older adult often requires hands-on experience and simply listening to their needs. It’s not something you have to guess at, either. With many resources available for the loved ones of older adults, it’s no longer necessary to feel alone or confused about the right thing to do.
Check-in with your family member’s physician, your local senior care center, or your local office for the aging to see what free or discounted services may be available. They may also offer support groups to chat about your concerns or worries with others in the same position.
Your loved one’s Medicare Advantage plan, like those offered by KelseyCare Advantage, may provide some useful tools, too. They can include transportation services or fitness programs to ease your to-do list and give your seniors additional ways to prioritize their health. Check with their plan administrator to see what options are available.