Expert Elder Care Guidance

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Caregiving basics - prevention and planning

This caregiving guide is designed as a primer on how to begin helping your parents navigate the aging and elder care process. Thoughtful planning and preventative measures can allow both you and them to handle the changes to come with dignity and understanding.
A number of excellent caregiving and elder care resources are available to help you prepare to manage and respond to the aging process.  Area Agencies on Aging offer all kinds of community services and caregiver support that can assist your parents if they want to remain at home. Call 1.800.677.1116 to find the nearest one or go to
Also, be sure to check the Medicare website at Every year, your parents have to decide what Medicare prescription plan they'll join (Part D) and whether they want to stay in traditional Medicare or opt for a managed-care plan. Additionally, it is highly recommended that they buy a Medigap policy to cover the difference between what Medicare covers (usually 80 percent) and what a health care provider charges. It can all be very confusing. To help clear things up, go to the Medicare website to compare plans, learn what Medicare covers and research nursing homes right from your computer. 

Prevention and planning

In order to prevent potential problems and plan for the future, consider taking the following simple steps: 


  1. Look for signs that your parents might need help.
    Whenever you visit your parents in their own home, take a look around the house and see if you notice any of these early signs, which could indicate vision problems, mobility issues, signs of dementia or depression: 
    • Are household bills piling up and is mail left unopened?
    • Do you notice scorched pots and pans? 
    • Is the house more unkempt than usual?
    • Is the refrigerator stocked with fresh food? Is anything moldy or expired? Poor diet can exacerbate chronic diseases, weaken the immune system and lead to dementia.
  2. Take proactive safety measures.
    Nearly one in three older adults falls every year, and half of them will die as a result. When you visit, check the following:
    • Are stairways well lit and handrails securely fastened?
    • Are area rugs, clutter, and electrical cords out of the way?
    • Is the bath mat non-slip and are grab bars mounted securely in the shower? 
    • Is there enough room to safely move around in the bathroom?
  3. Make sure your parents are managing their medications properly.
    Adverse drug reactions are estimated to be the fourth-leading cause of death among older adults. Prescription drugs or taking the wrong combination can also cause confusion, dizziness and signs that are often mistaken for signs of dementia. Look out for things that could indicate problems with medication management:
    • Are your parents' pills organized or strewn all over the house? If so, encourage them to use pill dispensers.
    • Are expired pill bottles mixed in with current ones? 
    • Is either parent taking more than three medications?

    If so, research medications your parents take by going to Also, create a list of all your parents' current medications, what they're for, who prescribed them and in what dosage. Make copies of the list so your parents can take it to all medical appointments.

  4. Establish a strong local caregiver support system. 
    This is especially important if you live far away.
    • Meet your parents' neighbors and ask them to call if they think your mom and dad need help. 
    • Make a contact list of your parents' doctors, pharmacist and home health care providers and share it with other family members and/or caregivers. 
    • Read over their insurance policies to know what services are covered under what circumstances, so you are prepared to quickly respond when the need arises. 
    • Make sure your parents have a living will and a durable healthcare power of attorney. You can't respect their wishes if you don't know what they want.
  5. Consider a geriatric assessment.
    Anyone over 65 years of age should have an overall work-up by a physician and an interdisciplinary team trained in geriatrics. Our aging bodies are complex and deserve a specialist. Many local hospitals offer geriatric assessment clinics. 

The bottom line

  • As your parents age, they will need your help to stay safe and comfortable at home, to navigate their healthcare options and to establish a good support system.
  • Our Caregiving Basics guide is a primer that can help you sort out the critical things you should look for, as well as the actions you need to take as you begin to assume this new role in your parents' lives.
  • Key resources are available to help: Area Agencies on Aging can be reached at 1.800.677.1116 or go to And be sure to check Medicare's website at





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