AARP Features SimplyHome-How to Help an Aging Parent
Use this guide to assess when a loved one needs a caregiver and what options are available
by: Tina Adler | from: AARP The Magazine | June 13, 2012
How to Know When It's Time
Sometimes an elder's need for help is sudden and obvious. More often, though, it becomes apparent gradually, experts say. So how will you know? Watch for changes in your loved one's behavior, such as ignoring favorite hobbies, missing dates with friends, or forgetting to pay bills. Not every change means danger, but when a shift happens, it's important to understand why, says Claudia Fine, an executive at SeniorBridge, a geriatric-care management company. So snoop, Fine advises. Tag along to your loved one's doctors' appointments and ask questions.
Once you understand the person's situation, you can help develop plans, says Peter Notarstefano, director of home- and community-based services at LeadingAge, an association for aging-services organizations. Although you may not see yourself as a "caregiver," that's the term for anyone who looks after a person who needs assistance with daily tasks. AARP's Caregiving Resource Center can help.
Staying at Home
Keeping a loved one in his or her house, or yours, can be challenging if your loved one needs daily help with some tasks. Thankfully, there are services to make it easier.
Adult day facilities offer meals, activities, companionship and some medical care. One popular program for frail people is the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). It's free for those who qualify for Medicaid; others pay about $3,000 a month.
Service programs such as Senior Corps send volunteers age 55 or older to visit elderly individuals at home and provide companionship.
Occupational therapists can evaluate a home and its resident and recommend grab bars and other changes to improve safety. They also help clients develop strength and skills, such as balance, so they can manage more of their daily activities. Studies show that visits from an OT help older people stay in their homes longer.
If you and your family member want to live near each other but not in the same house, you can now rent a fully equipped, backyard mini-apartment that attaches to your home's utilities. Some of these so-called assisted living structures come with monitoring systems.
Assistive-technology companies have products that can ensure your relative is safe. SimplyHome offers monitoring equipment such as motion sensors and GPS watches, and QuietCare (careinnovations.com) has a motion-sensor system that can learn a person's daily patterns and send alerts when there is a significant change.
In some areas nonprofit support networks called Villages help older residents stay in their homes. Volunteers perform some everyday tasks, and the Villages also arrange for discounted services, from plumbing to nursing care. Annual membership fees are usually $300 to $500. See whether there's a Village near you.