Dear Nurse Kris,
I recently visited my Mom and Dad and was really surprised at how they were living. I live in Ontario and I only get out to their home in the Okanagan once or twice a year. I call on a regular basis and every time they tell me they are ‘just fine’. Little did I know they were really ‘not fine’. I found dirty clothes and used diapers in the corner of their bedroom, dog hair under the couch, a stack of smelly stale laundry, an overflowing recycling bin…the list goes on but I think you get the picture. I feel really bad and I feel like I’ve neglected them. I had NO idea they were living this way. While I was there I telephoned around to some private caregivers who had ads in the paper. I hired one after I met her. I really didn’t know much to ask her, except if she knew how to look after what my mom and dad needed and she said ‘yes’. Is there a better way to do this?
Leeta - Brampton, Ontario
Wow. You must have felt surprised to see their home this way. This is a common phenomenon. Many parents of baby boomers don’t want to burden us with their troubles. Most of all, most seniors do NOT want to move out of their home to a ‘nursing’ home. They do everything in their power to avoid hearing the words, ‘nursing home’, and thus make everything sound like it is just fine.
You raise good questions - how can you tell if your loved ones needs help to live independently?
1. Look for telltale signals such as: dishes in the cupboard that still have food particles on them (poor eyesight can’t tell the dishes are still dirty); dusty knick-knacks (especially if the senior was a good housekeeper in their earlier years), floors look like they need to be washed or carpets vacuumed.
2. As you’re visiting listen carefully. Your loved one may say that they don’t use the oven because they can’t lift the pot or the pan into or out of the oven; or perhaps they mention casually that they aren’t taking a bath or shower anymore because it’s too hard to get in and out of the tub or don’t go to the dentist ‘because it’s too expensive’. (Too expensive often means that they have to take a cab there and back, not that the dental services are too expensive!)
3. If you’re unable to visit and your parents don’t have other family in the area, check with a neighbour and ask them how your parents are doing. Ask how they get their groceries or get to the appointments. If your parents live in a condo or apartment, call the building superintendent or resident caretaker and ask how they are making out on their own.
Explain to your parents that you will arrange for caregivers to come in and help with whatever is required. A responsible home care agency will come to do a complimentary needs assessment. Be sure this person is either an LPN, RN or Occupational Therapist. They are trained in seeing all of the facets: health, finances, logistics, safety, etc. Your parents will likely appreciate that you are trying to help them stay in their home, instead of having no option except a nursing home to get their needs met.
You may wish to choose an agency that has a wide variety of services so that your parents only have one person to speak to at that company who can arrange a variety of services required in the home (housekeeping, groundskeeping, personal care for example). It is best to select an agency who can provide for “progressive care” as your parents need for support increases. An agency that offers on-line visualization of tasks accomplished is an excellent way for you to stay on top of what is being provided exactly.