More Americans are living longer due to advances in health care and nutrition. As the “graying of America” increases, more children are taking care of their aging parents or considering elder home care. If you or someone you know is concerned with caring for aging parents, there are some steps you can take before making decisions about their care.

Assessing the situation

Your first step should be to talk to your parents and help them realistically assess their living situation. Discuss all issues openly and address any problems or struggles you see. Here are some specific issues to explore.

  • Is your parent eating well, exercising appropriately, and getting enough social contact? Proper nutrition, exercise, and socializing go a long way in eliminating or reducing many of the medical and psychosocial problems associated with aging.
  • Is your parent’s living environment safe? Many older Americans are injured in and around their homes by common hazards such as the improper location of electrical and phone cords; outdated electrical outlets and switches; slippery rugs, runners and mats; improper location of smoke detectors or dead batteries; unsafe use of space heaters; and poor lighting.
  • Is your parent prepared financially? A complete review of your parent’s financial situation will help identify potential problem areas. At a minimum, make sure you understand all sources of income, assets, and debts. Review medical and insurance coverage to ensure it is adequate. Find out if your parent has a will, living will and power of attorney and where these documents are located. If these documents don’t exist, discuss the need for them.
  • How is your parent’s mental and physical health? Monitor your parent closely for changes in physical and mental health. Be aware of any medications that your parent is taking and consult your parent’s health care provider regarding any specific requirements. Ensure that they have received basic vaccinations such as those for the flu and in some cases, pneumonia.

Getting support

Keep in mind that you cannot always provide the care your parent needs on your own. Many elder home care services are available to help your parent live comfortably and safely at home. Most seniors prefer to live at home because of the familiar network of friends, places and routines. Elder home care agencies and volunteer groups can help your parents remain at home.

Finally, caring for an aging parent can be very stressful. Recognize that you, as a caregiver, will also need support in order to avoid burnout. To cope with the stresses of caregiving, consider joining a caregiver support group, explore resources available through your work (eg, flex time or counseling), share responsibility with other family members (ie, siblings and older children), and consider respite care services offered by home care agencies.

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