OPED: 'Check in' with elderly relatives
With the holiday season upon us, many families are likely to get together at some point during the next two weeks. Such family gatherings serve as the perfect time to “check in” and quietly assess how elderly family members are faring and to determine if they may need some extra help. There are five primary areas recommended to ‘check on’, including:
Look around the house or apartment: Do you see dark stairwells, loose rugs, clutter or fire hazards? Would brighter lighting and clearer passage ways help? Could the home be easier to navigate with simple modifications, such as easier to use handles and switches, a tub bench, comfort height toilet, or walk-in shower? Are the stairs easy to manage, or would a stair glide help? Would it be safer if all living quarters were on one level? Is there a bath on the ground floor or a room that could become a bedroom? Do you see scorched pots and pans? Is the home more un-kept than usual? Are the smoke alarm batteries working?
Look in the refrigerator and assess nutritional status: Are there healthy foods, fresh produce and meats? Are food products expired or moldy? When you sit down for a meal or go out to eat, are they eating less or showing little interest in food? Do they appear to have lost weight?
Look at medications and assess health & social status: Have they recently seen their primary care physician? Are their prescriptions up to date or are expired pill bottles mixed in with current ones? Ask how their medications make them feel? Do they remember to take their medications properly? Are the pills organized? Would a pill organizer help? Ask when was the last time they went out with friends or did things they like to do, such as go out to a movie, to eat or to church? Can you carry on a coherent conversation? Do they keep repeating the same story?
Look at their financial situation: Is mail left unopened? Are household bills piling up? Have late-notices been received? Are there bills that they simply cannot afford to pay? Ask if all of their financial information is one place in case you ever need to access it in an emergency?
Look at their car: If they are still driving, let them take you for a drive so you can assess their driving skills. Do they drive too slow, miss traffic signals or signs or have trouble at intersections? Assess the car, are there dents or dings on the car or garage? Have they received any recent speeding or traffic tickets?
While these quick tips will allow you to ‘check in” respectfully and gracefully, it’s important that your elderly family members have the support and tools needed to live independently after your holiday visit has ended. If your ‘check in’ leads to concerns make any necessary home adjustments and arrange for proper supports and resources to help them remain safely at home. Your local area agency on aging is available to provide you and your loved one with proper guidance and can be located at www.aging.pa.gov. During this time of year when many seniors are more prone to loneliness or depression, in addition to ‘checking in’ with your own elderly family members, pausing to remember the elders in your community by making a visit to a nursing home or bringing a meal or plate of goodies to your elderly neighbor are some of the greatest gifts you can give.
Secretary of Aging