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Caring for aging parents: a home visit checklist

What it is

caring for aging parents at home checklist

A Home Visit Checklist is a step-by-step guide to the simple things you can look for when you visit your parents, as well as the simple things you can do to help them cope with aging at home.

 

Not everyone has the option of caring for aging parents at home. As adults, visiting your parents is a chance to catch up on family news and reminisce about old times. But whether you're dropping by for a quick visit or staying for an extended holiday, a visit to your aging parents in their own home is also a perfect opportunity to assess how things are going and to find out what you can to do help them manage the challenges that come with aging. And it's a chance to do some things for them that can prevent problems in the future.
 
Perhaps you're concerned about your mom's ability to shop and cook. Or you're worried that your dad's driving skills may have deteriorated. These and other concerns about aging parents can be troubling, especially if you live far away. 
 
Next time you visit, try taking along the Homecare.com double-duty checklist - five things to look for and five things to do to help make caring for aging parents a bit easier. These simple guidelines can identify issues, prevent problems from occurring, and may even help you sleep better at night.
 

Five things to look for

In general, look for things that might signal a decrease in thinking skills or vision and /or the inability to be physically active.
 
  1. Around the house
    Is the house more unkempt than usual? In the kitchen, do you see scorched pots and pans? If household bills are piling up and mail is left unopened, it could be a sign that the simple tasks of writing bills, balancing a checkbook and keeping track of due dates is becoming overwhelming. 
     
  2. In the fridge
    Is the refrigerator well stocked with fresh produce and meats? Do you notice lots of moldy, expired food products? These could be signs that your aging parents are becoming malnourished, especially if they also appear to have lost weight and have little interest in food. Poor diet can exacerbate chronic diseases, lead to a weakened immune system and increase the risk of dementia.
     
  3. In the medicine cabinet
    Are your parents taking more than five medications? Are expired pill bottles mixed in with current ones? Are the pills organized to prevent taking the wrong dose or too many? Do they have trouble holding a coherent conversation, often repeating the same story? Dizziness, confusion and signs of dementia can be caused by medications or taking the wrong combination of drugs.
     
  4. In their social life
    When was the last time your parents went out with friends or out to dinner? Do they still do the things they used to enjoy? If you find them reluctant to leave the house, it could be a sign that they're having a hard time driving, moving about, seeing or hearing, and so they'd rather stay home. This could lead to loneliness and depression. Try to find out what's causing them to disengage.
     
  5. Outside the home
    If your parents are still driving, have them drive you somewhere so that you can assess their driving skills. It's especially important to do this if you notice dents or scratches on their car or if they've recently received speeding or traffic tickets. 
 

Five things you can do to help

  1. Organize their medications
    Help your parents make their current system of storing and taking pills more fail-safe. Purchase pill-tracker containers that separate pills by the day, week and time of day. Color-code and label the lids of their pill bottles so they know which one is a water pill, heart pill and so forth. Create a list of all their current medications and who prescribed them. Make one copy for them to take to all of their medical appointments and one for you to keep at home.
     
  2. Get to know their local support system
    Introduce yourself to your parents' neighbors, exchange phone numbers and tell them to feel free to call you if they think your parents might need you. Go to the local post office and sign up for the Carrier Alert program (postal carriers will alert you if they think something is amiss). Bring home a copy of the local phone book so you'll know what agencies are available to help, and make a contact list with names and phone numbers of your parent's doctors, pharmacist and other care providers.
     
  3. Talk about medical decision-making and other legal issues
    This is one of the most difficult conversations to have with your parents, so approach it by saying that you want to make sure their wishes are followed. You need to know the location of all their important papers, such as living will, durable healthcare power of attorney, power of attorney, will and insurance policies. 
     
  4. Help them with their annual Medicare or Managed Care paperwork 
    Every fall your parents need to review their Medicare plan and decide if they want to keep their current plan or make a change. Your parents need to decide whether or not to stay in traditional Medicare or opt for a Medicare managed care plan. It can be very confusing. You can also help them choose a Medicare Part D prescription plan. Go to medicare.gov for answers on Medicare Part D and comparisons of plans. Or click here for an overview of the enrollment period.
     
  5. If you are concerned that your parents seem to be experiencing difficulties, it might be time to set up an overall work-up by an interdisciplinary team including a physician trained in geriatrics. Many local hospitals offer this type of service. 
 

The bottom line

  • Every visit to your parents in their own home is an opportunity to assess how things are going for them. Older people's health status can change very quickly, so you can't assume that things are fine if it's been awhile since you visited. Telephone calls won't suffice.
  • There are simple signs to look for that can indicate problems - anything from an unkempt house to a lack of food in the fridge.
  • There are simple things you can do to help your parents cope with the challenges that come with aging and to prepare both you and them for the future. 
 

 

 

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