For others taking care of elderly parents at home, our father’s story may provide some valuable lessons. Five years ago, Dad was a mess. Today, he has turned things around. He’s in much better shape, despite being five years older. Here’s what the situation looked like five years ago and the advice he’d give himself back then now that he sees how things can be better.
We know all too well how stressful it can be taking care of elderly parents at home. Hopefully, seeing how the situation can improve will offer hope to caregivers, but also serve as a useful example for aging parents to consider.
When You’re Taking Care of Elderly Parents at Home and Things Are a Mess
Five years ago, we felt like we were failing at taking care of aging parents. Dad seemed to be going downhill. Each time we visited, he had retreated a bit more. He was trying to manage his big house all by himself and it was clearly exhausting him. We started noticing he was closing off rooms and spending most of his time in just a tiny section of the home. His outfits seemed to be limited to one or two items. Dad always liked wearing neat button-down shirts and chinos, but we learned later that his shoulder hurt too much when doing laundry and ironing. So, he started spending most of the day in pajamas and wearing tracksuits when he had to go out. Then we started noticing small injuries such as bruises and cuts.
State of Emergency
It turns out he’d fallen numerous times, which only came out when he ended up in the ER twice. At the last ER visit, we learned there were many problems that Dad had been trying to cover.
He was not only hurt physically, but very confused when we met him at the hospital. It turns out he was making significant errors with his medications. He had mixed in old pills that had since been replaced with new ones. And, he was taking two medications with potentially harmful interactions. Finally, he had the timing and dosages mixed up on a few. We had started wondering if he was developing Alzheimer’s, but it turns out his medication problems were to blame.
Additionally, Dad had never really gotten used to cooking for himself or eating alone. With his confusion and exhaustion, this had become even more difficult. So, he was going out with friends to lunch a couple times per week and living mostly on leftovers and snacks. He still drove out to meet his friends at a nearby spot, but otherwise felt uncomfortable driving any further. Therefore, he stopped most outside activities and stayed home a lot. He’d neglected to follow up on a doctor’s recommendation to see a specialist because he wasn’t sure how he’d get there.
What Changed: Five Years Later
Once it all came out in the open, we tackled the issues together as a family. I reassured Dad that we didn’t want to take away his control, or force him into a nursing home. But, we did not want him to be living in misery. My sister and I took time to talk to him and listen to his worries, and understand what had been going on. Though he was a bit guarded at first, he opened up and began to see we had his interests at heart.
We all decided we needed a plan going forward. I contacted EasyLiving and a care manager came out to meet with us. With her complete assessment, we had a plan in place to help Dad. What was eye-opening was how much his quality of life had truly been suffering over the past several years. And, how little it took to fix many of the issues and make things better for him. It was definitely eye-opening for Dad too.
The care manager suggested numerous creative solutions, many of which cost little or nothing. She helped Dad see the benefits of getting some help to prevent a bigger crisis than the ones he’d found himself in thus far. And, she helped us get things in place and make sure it all went smoothly. There were occasional stumbling blocks, so it was so valuable for us and Dad to have someone we trusted to help throughout.
Here’s how Dad’s life looks now:
The Plan=The Results
- Dad uses Lyft Concierge for the freedom of getting rides on demand. His home caregiver also runs errands and takes him to scheduled doctor’s appointments once/week, but he loves the freedom of calling for a car when he needs it. He started going back to his favorite evening theater events since he doesn’t have to worry about night driving. Three years ago, he sold his car.
- Dad’s caregiver buys groceries for him weekly and cooks him several meals. She eats a couple with him and also freezes some tasty, healthy options for later. He also has Shipt for grocery delivery, but he found he liked having company for some home-cooked meals. We worked with EasyLiving to find the right caregiver, and he loves her cooking.
- We got a complete medication review done and Dad’s doctor was able to reduce some medications. Dad gets his medications delivered from Medicine Shoppe in med packs so it’s easy for him to manage.
- The care manager helped us rearrange the home to make things more accessible and safer for Dad. He can now easily reach everything he needs on a regular basis. We removed a bunch of trip hazards and cleared pathways. We added some grab bars in the bathroom and a raised toilet seat. Dad uses the bathroom with a walk-in shower, which also has a nice bench seat he can rest on if he feels tired. She also convinced Dad to get an emergency call system, which of course gave us peace of mind. But, surprisingly, it gave him even more.
- Dad’s caregiver helps with laundry (ironed shirts again!) and keeping the house tidy. We make sure to arrange regular maintenance and check in, so Dad’s not tempted to do tasks where he might hurt himself.
- Between eating better, being on the right medications, and having a better home and personal environment, Dad has more energy. He picked back up some of his old outside activities, especially with the ease of getting around. We also recently got him an Alexa Show and he now loves video chatting with his grandkids. He uses it to listen to daily news briefings and history podcasts. He wasn’t so sure about it at first, but now he’s really enjoying what he uses it for so far.
- We also feel more prepared for whatever lies ahead. When we did the assessment, we went in and reviewed the legal and financial situation with Dad’s advisors. We simplified some things and he updated all his documents. The care manager helped us organize his disparate medical records. Now, if he ended up in the ER, we would be prepared. We also have a trusted team who can give us advice and set up more services when needed. This means more than you can imagine if you’re taking care of elderly parents at home.
Lessons Learned: What Dad Would Tell Himself Five Years Ago
Dad can say it best:
Facing My Fears
I would tell myself not to be so afraid to face what was changing as I got older. I had a fear of admitting to anything and I couldn’t even say exactly why. No one wants to admit things are changing, and maybe I thought saying anything might lead to losing some freedom. But, I was not free the way I was living. I was almost trapped in my home.
A Better Life
I would like to show myself back then how much better life could be with just a bit of help or a few minor changes. When someone says you need help at home, it makes you think of a helpless or sick person. But, it is a treat having someone do my laundry, vacuum, and prepare delicious meals for me. I realized some of my kids and grandkids have services like this too...and they’re not old or sick. The same goes for the ride service, now I’m as hip as my grandkids--ha ha!
Old People Aren't the Only Wise Ones
I’d also listen more to my kids’ concerns and realize I was doing the opposite of “not burdening them” by not admitting to needing help. I was unfairly placing a burden on them to potentially pick up the pieces of a crisis. It’s tough to take advice from your kids. They’re you’re kids! But, I’m proud of the part I played in raising mine well. I should have trusted that they’re smart and want what’s best for me. I know not everyone has that, unfortunately. So, if you don’t, find someone you can trust to help.
A Key to Staying Safe
And, one of the biggest lessons I learned was not to mess around with medications (or medical stuff in general). They can be life-saving, but they can also kill you. Ask questions (or get an advocate to help) and use some kind of system to keep yourself on track. I was also putting off medical care for silly reasons like transportation. A few more months of that and I might not be here now (and certainly wouldn’t have still been living at home). Two new great-grandkids were born during this time. It’s hard to admit I may have missed that of my own doing.
Now's the Time...
If you're taking care of elderly parents at home, don't wait to get an assessment or find out what resources could help.