Our relationships with our elders can change in some pretty profound ways as we both get older. As we get used to living with more and more responsibility, we also find that they might start losing aspects of their own independence. As we get older, we may need more help, and going from the role of the younger person who looks up to and follows an older family member to one that has to help care for them can be a foreign situation to you. Here, we’re going to look at some of the ways you can get used to that role, becoming their advocate and helping their well-being when they can’t do it alone anymore. It’s worth noting these tips apply to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other older loved ones that you want to help, not just parents.
Encourage healthy living
Both to improve the well-being of your loved one and to help them maintain more of their independence for longer, for both of your sakes, you should start talking to them about healthy living and what you can do to better improve not just your current but future condition. Doing things together, be it going for walks, finding group exercises that are friendly to both of you, and sharing healthy meals with them can be a lot more effective than simply making recommendations, but you should get the doctor involved, as well.
Go to the doctor with them
Many people do not like the notion of going to the doctor, and some might wish they had someone to support them there. When your aging loved one has to go to the doctor, you can become a caregiver and medical advocate on their behalf. Let their doctor or health practice know that you’re accompanying them ahead of time, and make sure you have the information that you need, such as their current symptoms, health conditions, as well as past medications and surgeries. Be ready to take notes and pick up on questions you or your parent might want to ask.
Manage their healthcare with them
If your parent, like many of us, has long-term health conditions that they have to manage and deal with, then helping them become more organized can ensure the best possible outcomes. There are things like medical reminder apps that can be useful in making sure that they take any medication at the right time, but you should also be sure to keep a calendar of important dates for things like medical appointments, and exam results, and to keep and organize paperwork related to their health to ensure that nothing goes missing and that you can manage a full medical history.
Provide support during hospital stays
If your loved one has to stay in a hospital, then there’s a lot that you can do to make the stay both safer and more comfortable for them. Most important is that you visit them or stay with them for as long as you are able, especially after a serious health event. Many healthcare professionals agree that morale and mental health play a bigger role in the recovery process than we’re able to fully measure. You can also take notes of the medication they’re on to ensure they’re being given it properly or to check if they’re being overmedicated. If they have any special needs that are not being fulfilled, you can make sure that they are brought to the attention of the medical staff.
Be mindful of the possibility of delirium
It is an unfortunate reality that older adults are more susceptible to issues such as delirium, and that this can be caused or exacerbated by hospital treatments, with certain medications like anti-anxiety drugs known to be of particular risk. Many people are not aware of delirium and it can be mistaken for dementia, even by doctors and medical staff. To avoid a misdiagnosis and incorrectly prescribed treatments that could make the situation worse, you should know the signs of delirium as well as the risk factors s that you can speak up and ensure that your loved one is getting the appropriate treatment. By noticing symptoms and risks of delirium, you can ask the staff to make changes to the treatment that can prevent it as well.
Consider assisted living options with them
Of course, as your loved one gets older and loses elements of their independence, then the question of how well they can safely live alone is going to have to come up at some point. In most cases, the answer is to help them find some kind of assisted living situation. There are various different ways you can do this, such as by making their home more accessible to their needs by doing things like installing safety rails in the bathroom as well as alarms that can notify you or health professionals in the result of an emergency. You can look at working with live-in caregivers but, in most situations, finding a residential care facility for them, where they can have staff waiting on their needs, is the most common solution. When choosing one, do it collaboratively with your loved one, making sure that their opinions and needs are being heard out.
Think about becoming a carer
If you are willing and able to take on the entirety of the responsibility, then you can become the carer of your parent or loved one. However, you have to consider this seriously and make sure that you’re willing to take the responsibility before you even mention it to your loved one as they will only naturally be much more enthusiastic about the prospect of benign cared for by a loved one than by strangers, so you shouldn’t dangle the possibility in front of them unless you’re committed. There are plenty of resources to help caregivers settle into their role, so do your research, too.
Monitor to ensure their safety
If your loved one is in a hospital, retirement community, care facility, or otherwise, you are not going to be there for them 24/7. As such, you should be doubly sure to be vigilant, to keep an eye out for the condition of their surroundings and care when you visit them, and to check in with their caregivers for detailed reports on the kind of care your loved one receives. Speak up if the standards are not to your liking and if you see the signs of elder abuse, such as fresh injuries, malnourishment, poor hygiene, or symptoms of worsening mental health, you should be ready to get in touch with an elder law attorney. Many victims in these scenarios do not speak up out of either fear of their abusers or of the idea they may not be believed or taken seriously. Don’t hesitate if you have any reason to suspect abuse. Act.
Consider their comfort
It’s not just the safety of your loved one that you should be ready and willing to stand up for, but their comfort, as well. Especially if they are in a hospital or a care facility, you can make up for the resources they might not always have around. Bring comfort items with you, such as moisturizer, moist wipes, non-slip slippers, a cozy robe, lip balm, and the like. Ask them if there is anything they would like you to bring during their next visit. Aside from simply helping them stay comfortable, it can be a real way to communicate your care for your loved one, so they don’t feel like they have been simply be put out of sight and out of mind.
Know what legal powers you can take
If your loved one is in treatment, in a hospital, care center, or otherwise, they may become incapable of making their own decisions. When that happens, you may want to step in to make sure that someone is there to advocate for their wellbeing. As such, you should look at the steps and process of assuming power of attorney over them. This can give you the power to make decisions regarding their well-being, health care treatments, finances, and more when they are not able to.
It’s not so much a practical tip on how you can help care for your loved one, but it is an important thing to keep in mind that you need to be tenacious, persistent, and even downright stubborn when you have any concerns about the care of your loved one. You shouldn’t become abusive or aggressive but be prepared to keep pressing the issue if your loved one’s care providers aren’t providing answers or actions quickly enough. Joining a caregiver support group can help you get the backup and advice you need to be that strong advocate.
Above all else, try to ensure that the needs and wants of your older loved one are heard as best as they can be. You may sometimes have to take decision-making powers into your own hand, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be included in the process.