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Dear Me: 12 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Parents Became Unwell

Having spent the last 10 years experiencing her parents growing older and helping them as their health deteriorated, Brighton business owner, Tracey Allen, reflects on her experience. Here Tracey offers some top tips about preparing for the ageing process of your parents.

12 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Parents Became Unwell

1. Adapting the Home

Whether your folks have downsized or not, the home will be where your loved ones will want to remain for as long as possible. If they have not chosen a retirement village (my advice is to start leaving leaflets lying around) then you will at some point have to start to make adaptations to the home, to make sure it is safe.

Trip hazards, such as paving stones in the garden for example or lack of extra hand holds in the bathroom and on the stairs will need to be considered.

parentsHaving a downstairs loo or shower room is sensible and keeping garden maintenance to a minimum will be worth thinking about as they get into their 80s and 90s – although light gardening is a great activity to help them to keep fit and well. Landline, mobile phones and up-to-date technology will make your life, and theirs, much easier, especially in times of crisis.

Being able to understand and use a smart phone and tablet to keep them connected and engaged in technology is crucial. Also, think about installing a key safe, and sensor LED amber lighting for the night time trips to the bathroom.

2. The Distance Between You

I have managed to look after my parents with a 400-mile round trip in between us. It’s not ideal. If you think you will be the person leading the organisation of their care, consider your circumstances and your relatives circumstances and who will benefit most from moving nearer.

3. Health Assessment

parentsUnderstanding their health and where the key risks may lie can help you plan ahead and prioritise. For example, older people with failing eye sight will benefit from good lighting and brightly coloured gifts such as keys, purses, utensils and glasses to help with locating them.

If someone is going to be less physically capable, you also need to think about their circulation, so a regular walk or chair-based exercise class will be even more important. Try and think about how their health condition may develop and what you can do early-on to make life comfortable.

4. Local Support

Getting to know your local taxi company, doctor, domestic helpers, home-helpers, gardeners and local shops will help you to get things done more efficiently. Setting up accounts to be settled monthly takes the worry away and ensures that bills will be taken care of.

parents5. Legal Paperwork

I was very naive, I didn’t know what an LPA (Lasting Power of Attorney) was, why there were two different types and how long they took to process. I also didn’t know what I needed do next after they were processed. My advice is to get your LPA’s sorted sooner rather than later with a solicitor of your choice; as part of this, remember to find out about how to manage the finances in the bank or building society should the time come when your parents lose their mental capacity;  this has to be certified by the GP to enable the LPA to be recognised by the bank.

6. Finances

Getting to understand your relative’s financial status (with their permission) is probably the most important thing you can do as this will enable you to make smart decisions about their care when the time comes.  As we only discovered after many weeks of waiting for Social Services to respond to us, in England, if your parents have assets (excluding the house one or both together live in) of more than £23,500 then they will  fund their own care where it is means tested – such as a care home or care at home services.

parents

We sadly wasted an awful lot of important time only to be turned away when they realised my parents had assets and savings. We were completely unaware of this threshold and what it meant in real terms.

7. Be There

If, like me you end up having to look after your parents whilst they recuperate in hospital due to serious illness, be present. And I mean mentally and physically. My father spent eight weeks in hospital during the summer of 2009 and I was there every day, sleeping over some nights to keep him safe, as the hospital was under resourced.

Ask questions, don’t be ignored. If something doesn’t look right flag it up straight away. If things get complicated log every conversation, so that you can keep a track of what’s happening. Understand their prescriptions and what their medication is for. Make sure the right medication is being prescribed. Mistakes happen, a lot.

Keep a track of any blister packs if your relative’s medication becomes complicated, ensure that every item is supplied.

8. Get Support

Managing your own life whilst your relative’s life is getting complicated can be very stressful. This is where friends, relatives and neighbours become very important, you can thank them later. Make sure you have people who can help with the school run, walking the dog or feeding the cat. ASK!

People can always say no but invariably they won’t. And learn to delegate: other family members can take control of different elements of what is going on and play to their key strengths. If you’re no good at the legal stuff, delegate it to someone who is. This works well especially if that someone can’t always be present, they then feel as though they are still helping.

Tip: Keep everyone’s mobile phone number close to hand.parents

9. Find a Care Home

The one thing you don’t want to have to do in a panic is find a care home for your loved one. Spend time researching different types of care home if you think you may have to go down this route in the future.

If your relative has been diagnosed with Dementia, make sure that you find care that is suitable to their needs, as many of the homes I found were not designed or equipped to offer full Dementia care. Will your loved one need nursing care or are you just looking for independent living with basic support like help with taking medication and showering?

There is so much to choose from and a lot of advice out there. So, my advice is think ahead and find one that fits your needs and has a great CQC (Care Quality Commission) rating, and then keep it in mind should that day arrive.

10. Knowing Their Wishes

parentsI think it would have been easier to have had light hearted conversations about my lovely Dad’s wishes, instead of scratching our heads when the time came to make plans to say goodbye.

I know we did a super job and he would have loved what we prepared, but it would have been more reassuring if he had left an instruction on a small piece of paper, in a small envelope, in a small draw. If the opportunity arises to speak about this, then try and get a glimpse into what they would like at their final send off.

11. Funerals

The most miserable thing to be thrown into when you are feeling your absolute worst, is arranging a funeral. It’s true it does focus the mind and is very practical, but it is still the saddest thing you will ever do.

If your family is very organised they may decide to plan ahead and get this all-in hand. It will save a lot of heartache later on.

My advice is #tacklethetaboo and get talking now.parents

12. Dealing with Bereavement 

This is a very personal thing, and no-one knows how you will react until you do. My advice would be to slow down your pace after your loss, talk often of the person, eat well, sleep well and don’t expect too much of yourself for a few months. I can also thoroughly recommend Grief Works, Stories of Life, Death and Surviving– a book which seems to make sense of it all.

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