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Help aging parents be healthy, safe


Question: My parents are getting older and live in another city and I want to make sure they’re taking care of themselves and staying healthy. What signs of health or behavioral changes should I look for when I visit with my folks?

Answer: It’s difficult to monitor the health of your aging parents from miles away. Use your next visit with your parents to ask about their health and find out if there’s anything you can do to help them maintain their independence.

Sometimes your parents won’t admit they need help around the house. Other times they may not realize they need help.

Here are five things to look for on your next trip home to help you gauge if your aging parents could use some help:

• Have your aging parents lost weight?

Losing weight without trying to is a sign that something’s wrong. Weight loss could indicate a significant health problem in your aging parents, such as cancer, dementia, depression, heart failure or malnutrition. Talk to your parent about scheduling a doctor’s visit if you think his or her weight loss may be a sign of illness.

Your parent could be having difficulty finding the energy to cook, grasping the tools necessary to cook, or reading labels or directions on food products. Age-related changes to your parent’s body could mean that nothing tastes as good as it used to. Together you can find ways to make cooking easier or to make food more appealing.

• Are your aging parents safe in their home?

Take a look around your parents’ home, keeping an eye out for any red flags that might mean they’re having trouble maintaining their home. Are the lights working? Is the heat on? Has the well-maintained yard become overgrown? Are there dirty dishes in the sink? Is their home cluttered with piles of newspapers and magazines?

Think in terms of safety. Do your parents have difficulty navigating the narrow stairway? Have your parents mentioned any recent falls or injuries? Note any changes in your parents’ hearing and vision. Point out potential safety issues to your parents. Together you may be able to create a plan to fix these problems.

• Are your aging parents taking care of themselves?

Pay attention to your parents’ appearance. Notice if they’re keeping up with their usual personal hygiene routines.

Failure to keep up with bathing, brushing teeth and other basic grooming could indicate health problems. Dementia, depression or physical impairments could be to blame, and are among the most common reasons older people move to an assisted living center.

• How are your aging parents’ spirits?

Everyone has good and bad days, but a drastically different mood or outlook could be a sign of depression or another health concern. Ask your parents how they’re feeling. Do they seem withdrawn or blue? Are they still connecting with friends? Have they lost interest in hobbies and other activities? Are they involved in social groups or clubs? If they’re religious, do they attend regular services?

Tell your parents if you think they seem depressed. Encourage your parents to see their doctor and talk about their feelings.

• Are your aging parents having difficulty getting around?

If your parents have any health conditions that make it difficult to get around, they may have difficulty caring for themselves. For instance, your parents may experience muscle weakness, joint problems and other age-related changes that make it difficult to move.

Are they reluctant or unable to walk usual distances? Is knee or hip arthritis making it difficult to get around the house? Does your parent need a cane or walker? Talk to your parents about ways to make getting around easier.

Falls can cause major injuries and even death in older adults. The good news is that you can help your parents prevent falls by making their home safer and helping them stay active.

What to do if you have concerns about your aging parents:

Talk with your parents if you have any concerns about their health and safety. Knowing that you’re concerned about their health may be all the motivation your parents need to see their doctor. Some parents may need a little more encouragement, so let them know that you care about them and that you’re worried.

If your parents aren’t willing to listen to your concerns or if they dismiss your claims, you can take other measures. Call your parents’ doctor for guidance. Your parents’ doctor won’t discuss private information with you unless your parents have given the doctor permission to discuss their care with you. However, their doctor or health care provider may be glad to hear your insights.

Your parents’ doctor may also want to make sure he or she is allowed to speak with you regarding your parents’ care. Patient privacy is governed by HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, but that does not prevent a doctor, nurse or health plan employee from discussing your parent’s care with you if it’s in the best interest of your parent.

Local agencies have social workers who can evaluate your parents’ needs and put them in touch with pertinent services, such as home care workers and help with meals and transportation. Locally, you can contact Pima Council on Aging at 790-7272 for accurate information and assistance. Caregiver specialists can connect you with resource services in your parents’ area.

Today’s information is provided by Adina Wingate, PCOA’s public relations director. Send questions to generations@tucsoncitizen.com.

Pima Council on Aging

Generations: Help older parents to be healthy, safe

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