Caregivers Corner: Tips for helping mother remain as independent as possible

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Dear Mary, My mother lives in the mid-West and I can only visit once or twice a year. On my last visit, I noticed how frail she has become; she doesn’t like to cook just for herself so she has lost quite a bit of weight. Although she is still able to take care of her own hygiene and personal care, it takes longer and then she doesn’t seem to have much energy to take care of things in the house. I asked her to come back to Maryland with me, but she doesn’t want to leave the house she lived in with my dad. How can I help her even though I live hundreds of miles away?

Dear Reader, It sounds as though you did a good assessment of your mother’s abilities on your visit. Now it’s time to see where the gaps are, list the needs and sketch out a plan that will allow her to remain as independent as possible.

Start by checking with the area agency on aging in her community (www.eldercare.gov or 1-800-677-1116) to find out about local resources and services. Apply for home-delivered meals. You may want to consider installing an emergency response system to ensure a quick response if she were to fall or become suddenly ill.

Talk with your mother about hiring help with the housekeeping chores. Connect with family or friends in her area to enlist their support; set up a schedule of regular visits and phone calls to her. Find out who would be available to take her to doctors’ appointments or run errands for her.

Speak with your mother on a regular basis and ask these local caregivers to call you with regular updates and anytime they notice changes in your mom’s physical or emotional health.

Make sure you know where to find your mother’s important paperwork. Maintain a notebook or folder listing current medicines, names and phone numbers of her physicians, her landlord, the power company and any other important phone numbers. Make sure you have copies of her advance directive, Social Security card, Medicare and other insurance cards, and any other important documents. Keep the notebook/folder handy so you can grab it whenever you go for a routine visit or in case of an emergency.

The Anne Arundel County Department of Aging and Disabilities has a vital document folder that is ideal for this type of information. You can visit either the Annapolis, 2666 Riva Road, or Glen Burnie, 7320 Ritchie Highway, offices to pick one up.

You may also want to look into hiring a geriatric care manager; care managers can perform a variety of tasks, from checking in on your mother to arranging services for her.

Understand that your mother’s health and care needs will change over time. Talk with her about her preferences, especially before these changes occur. Let her know you will do your best to help her stay in her home, but that you both need to have some alternative plans if she becomes unable to do so.

Dear Mary, My parents are both in their 70s, living independently and doing pretty well right now. But I know that eventually, one or the other will become ill. The problem is that I have no idea what, if any, plans they have for the future. When I ask or try to have a conversation with them about things like their medical preferences or future care, they tell me “not to worry.” Since I am the only child, I do worry!

Dear Reader, Starting the “conversation” can certainly be difficult when it seems to be one-sided, but don’t let that stop you from continuing to try.

Let your parents know that you are concerned you won’t be able to follow their wishes if you don’t know what their wishes are. Ask them if they can give you a date and time when they will be willing to share with you their wishes and other important information and hold them to it!

They may not be willing to tackle everything at once and that’s OK. Stay calm and understand how difficult it might be for them to think about losing control, losing their independence or even losing one another. And keep in mind that this is an on-going conversation.

Questions and comments can be sent to Mary Chaput at the Department of Aging and Disabilities, 7320 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, MD 21061, or by contacting 410-222-4339 or agchap01@aacounty.org.



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