As a member of the “Sandwich Generation”, whereby having an adult daughter living at home after college due to the economy and a 12 year old son with Tourette’s, along with managing my aging father from a distance, I truly understand the difficulty both on a personal level as well as a professional level as a Geriatric Care Manager Elder Care Consultant. I can only imagine how difficult this process is for those with little or no experience in navigating through the confusing maze of health care. In managing your aging parent, there are some recommendations to help you understand the aging process and what you can do to help.
1. Recognize sudden changes. Quick onset of confusion or falling frequently is likely an acute episode indicating possibly an infection, medication side effect or even a heart attack or stroke. Be aware of their baseline behavior so you’re more in tune to the changes that occur.
2. Find the source of the decline. To often, a person with dementia symptoms are mis-diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Some easily treatable medical conditions such as urinary tract infection, plugged ears, vitamin B12 deficiency or underactive thyroid can mimic the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Note the ways the decline has presented itself such as short term memory impairment, loss of appetite, or poor hygiene and how long these changes have been going on. Share this information with their physician at their next appointment.
3. Familiarize yourself with their medicines. Note medication name, dosage, frequency, what it’s prescribed for and the prescribing doctor. Many times medications are prescribed for a secondary effect rather than the most common one. Find out about the potentially dangerous side effects to be on the alert for. Inform their doctor of your parent’s other substance use such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and even vitamins, supplements and nutritional drinks.
4. Curb ageist attitudes. Don’t assume all that anguish your parent is experiencing is age related. For instance left hip pain in an 87 year old may not be from age if there’s no discomfort in the right hip. Also, not every elderly person becomes depressed. And avoid saying things like “What do you expect at your age?” (Which is something my daughter says to me in jest, and I’m only pushing 50!)
5. Address the symptoms but don’t ignore the emotions. During the aging decline comes all the emotions of insecurity, fear, grief, boredom, sadness and embarrassment. Emotional distress can exacerbate dis-ease symptoms and even spark new illnesses. Uncover what causes the most stress and find solutions to help ease their concerns.
6. Maximize quality of life. Help your parent to find ways to enjoy life to its fullest and have the capability to do the things they want to do. Helping them through a problem or providing them with companionship and love. As they experience loss of loved ones coupled with their loss of some of their functional abilities, they may feel lonely or isolated. Help them meet new people and develop new interests through senior centers, adult day care or even through their local retirement or as-sisted living communities.
7. Know when to ask for help. You cannot assist your parent with the aging process alone. Your own immediate family support is a must and even with that, you may need to call for some professional guidance.
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