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Helping Older Adults Manage the Outside World

The world can become a scary place for an elderly person. If you're a caregiver, these tips can help you help your loved one:

Know the route that Grandpa takes to his regular daytime activities.

Make sure Mom carries identification and your contact information with her whenever she's out of the house.

Check that your parent's or grandparent's car is well maintained. Check often for problems with windshield wipers, tires, and brakes.

Even those who drive safely by day may suffer night blindness, which is common among older adults. Ride along with your loved one periodically at different times of day to assess these skills.

AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) offers driver safety information. It's designed to help troubleshoot a lot of the problems older drivers develop, such as being blinded by bright headlights. One solution is getting your older parent special glare-reduction glasses.

Remove the distributor cap from Mom's car or take the keys if she shouldn't be driving but is being really stubborn about it. Loss of the ability to drive can be extremely upsetting for seniors -- many consider it to be the single most difficult change they face. Recognize this and work to set up practical transportation alternatives so Mom won't feel completely stranded.

Take the time to teach Dad necessary public transportation routes (to and from the senior center, for example). Accompany him the first few times to make sure he knows what to do in case there are glitches.

Great gift idea: a small change purse filled with a supply of transportation tokens or the correct change if your mother's using a senior discount pass.

Many individual organizations provide transportation to and from their facilities or meetings. Examples are hospital or senior center shuttles, or church or synagogue carpools. Make sure to look into these options if Mom needs a way to get to the doctor's office or to religious services.

If you add up the expense of owning a car -- paying for insurance, gas, and maintenance, plus tolls -- it might not come out to much more than your parent would spend if he hired a private car service, assuming he doesn't drive more than a few times a week. 

Arrange for a responsible teenager to help your parent on shopping trips and other excursions.

Some local stores may offer home delivery: groceries, pharmacies, laundries, and the like. Use these services as freely as possible. Keep their phone numbers with you at all times.

Get to know the people who see your parent or grandparent every day -- the neighbors, store owners, and mail carriers. They can be a valuable source of information when you need it.

When waiters are especially kind and patient with your party, be sure your gratitude is reflected in your tip. 

"My daughter got her driver's license a few months ago, and of course she is always lobbying to borrow my car. We have a deal: if she takes her grandmother on an outing once a week (to the library or one of the other places Mom likes), then she gets the car for Saturday night. She's a pretty responsible driver anyway, but having my mother in the car reminds her to be extra careful. And while the museum with Grandma isn't as exciting as the movies with her friends, I think she and my mother both enjoy it."
- Rodney Banks

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