Our top 10 tips for great elderly care are to help you and to help parents and relatives. To plan ahead, make decisions more easily, and to help them living at home independently.
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1. Three questions to ask
Nobody wants to have ‘the’ care conversations with their parents, the role reversal is threatening for both parties. However, trust us – it is better to have these difficult conversations whilst mum and dad are still fit, healthy and able to tell you what they want.
These may not be chats to have over sunday lunch, and may take time. The purpose is to get some idea of where and how parents and relatives would ideally like to live. Three good questions to ask and discuss are:
1. Where do you want to live when you are old?
2. What care would you like should you need it?
3. How will the care be paid for?
The answers to these questions will help shape the future, and other decisions you may need to make.
2. Know their medication
Get to know what medication your parents and relatives take, in what order and how often. Set up on a repeat prescription and if it is physically easier, have the prescription delivered to their home.
If they are on a number of medications, buy a pill box organiser with compartments labelled with the days of the week as well as AM/PM doses.
You can now buy automatic pill dispensers which help with reminders and built-in safety features. There are also some elderly care apps which help to remind people to take medication. Also, if a new medication is prescribed, be sure to ask the doctor or pharmacist about potential side effects or possible interactions with current medications.
It is also a good idea to have all their medication reviewed regularly.
3. Set up a Power of Attorney
Power of Attorney is the legal process of giving someone trusted the authority to make decisions on your behalf should you become unable to do so yourself. A perfect example is a frail parent giving Power of Attorney to children or advisers if they are concerned they may lose their mental capacity to make their own decisions about finances, health and property.
It is not an easy conversation but it is essential. Once the task is done, it will give you both peace of mind.
4. Have a family care plan
A family care plan will help you to divide up responsibilities based on individuals’ strengths, and influencing factors such as work and other commitments and location.
A family plan will help to keep life more structured and organized at a time when it might feel a little out of control. It will also help your elderly loved one to talk about what’s on their mind too.
If one siblingis good with admin, let them manage the paperwork, making sure all the important documents are filed and passwords are recorded. If someone else is better with finances, they can help your parents with budget planning and bills. Perhaps a granddaughter loves cooking, so they can batch cook meals to stock the freezer. It’s not easy and not every job is going to feel equal, but there will be ups and downs and it’s best to work together.
Regular visits shouldn’t fall to just one member of the family.
You may find it easiest to arrange a schedule so that your parents have regular visits, rather than everyone turning up at once and then no-one for ages…. a schedule between you will also help with doctor appointments, errands, shopping, cooking, cleaning.
When you do visit, it’s good to check how well parents and relatives may be coping, if anything needs fixing, do they need more support with domestic chores, is the fridge stocked? It’s also a good idea to swap/share thoughts and observations with your siblings and other visitors – you may see a pattern emerging that requires help.
If necessary, you may need to hire a carer to help with some of those tasks and they will also need to be incorporated into the plans.
If you or a sibling doesn’t live nearby, you might consider investing in video calling technology specifically designed for older people. It’s a great way of keeping in touch particularly if they’re not very tech savvy.
5. Look into care options and funding
You may reach a point where you need to help your parents more by understanding the finances. Not easy conversations to have, but hopefully the outcome of enabling them to get more help will make them easier.
There are many types of care and it is a progressive journey in terms of costs. Most people want to remain living independently at home, so you might start with increased domestic support and buying some useful aids and adaptations.
As physical and mental needs increase, you might then need to think about live-in care, assisted living or care facilities.
All of this comes at a cost and we recommend talking to a specialist financial advisor – a member of The Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA) – to make sure the finances are in good shape.
6. Teching up
There are lots of cost effective tech options available to help your elderly parents live independently and safely at home.
Our first recommendation is to encourage parents who might live alone or be unsteady on their feet to wear a personal alarm pendant. There are many options available from simple alarms, to GPS trackers and fall detectors.
There are also a whole range of tech solutions to help keep parents safe at home from doorbells to chair motion sensors. Some of this stuff may sound intrusive, but they can literally be a life-saver.
The best thing is that families can continue to care at a distance but with the knowledge that if something goes wrong, they will be the first to know.
Plus, your elderly parents can continue to feel independent and go about their day, happy in the knowledge that there’s a safety net in place.
7. Keeping social and active
Keeping active and busy in old age can obviously become quite a challenge, particularly with decreased mobility, declining health or the loss of a partner. This is particularly hard to witness if someone has always been active and healthy.
There are many resources in the community that will help your loved one stay social and active. Visit our local Age Space hubs to find out what’s happening in their area.
At this juncture, we’re going to mention driving. There may come a time when your elderly parents may no longer be able to drive. This can be a very difficult conversation to have as who would want to give up such a freedom? There are no easy answers unfortunately, but there are options particularly with all the changes to calling for a taxi and online deliveries. There is also the benefit of potentially saving money on car maintenance, petrol, tax and insurance.
8. Home adaptations and gadgets
Living independently at home may require a few adjustments; there are simple and cost-effective fixes – a grab rail or a handy jar opener for example, while other modifications may be more involved, such as ramps, stair lifts and wet rooms.
Make sure the lighting is bright enough and the thermostat is working properly. Our guide to preventing falls at home will help with some cathartic de-cluttering to remove trip hazards like small rugs and cables.
9. Prepare for emergencies
Emergency hospital admissions are by their nature stressful, particularly in the middle of the night with blue lights flashing etc.
There are a few useful things you can do to prepare in case your parents or relatives find themselves on their way to A&E in an emergency. Make sure there is an uptodate list of medication (particularly blood thinners such as Warfarin); a list of useful contact details such as the GP, and a copy of their Power of Attorney as this will contain important information about their medical wishes.
Our guide to medical emergencies includes more useful advice.
10. Taking care of the carer
Last but not least, YOU need to remain healthy in order to take care of anyone else. Family carers have been found to suffer from stress, anxiety, depression and musculoskeletal disorders.
We have discussed dividing the responsibilities between you, your spouse and other family members but It is also important that you don’t forget to take breaks, get away a bit and enjoy your life as well.
If one of your parents is caring for the other, it’s easy to focus on the one that needs obvious support, especially if the other parent does not like to ask for help.
Their health and well-being is absolutely critical. Check in regularly and try and encourage them to maintain some of their own interests.
We hope our 10 elderly care tips are helpful. Age Space is crammed with lots more information and guidance and our section hubs are always a good place to start if you’re unsure exactly what you need.
We also have a really useful Facebook group called – Caring for Elderly Parents UK, where you’ll find lots of people in similar situations offering first hand support and advice.