Caring for Parents, Keeping Them Healthy
Bad posture can complicate back problems and limit mobility. Is Mom walking as upright as she used to? Is Dad favoring one leg over the other for some reason? Sometimes the answer can be as simple as a new pair of shoes.
Osteoporosis is a serious problem for older women, leading to height changes and serious (sometimes deadly) fractures. Schedule your parent for a bone density test, and encourage weight-bearing exercise (walking, light weights, gardening). Make sure Mom gets plenty of calcium (the new "chocolate chew" supplements are delicious), and ask her doctor about hormone replacement therapy or other treatments.
Make sure Mom is giving herself regular breast exams and that she has a mammogram annually.
If there are precautionary measures that must be remembered, make a checklist and post it in a place where it can't possibly be missed. But change the list and its location from time to time so that it doesn't get taken for granted after a while. If you use a dry erase board or a chalkboard, ask your parent to check off the points as they are followed.
The older you get, the more you are affected by alcohol. On the other hand, a glass of wine now and then has been known to be beneficial for the heart. Check with your loved one's doctor for a good rule of thumb. In the meantime, locate some "zero-proof" recipes and dress them up -- tiny umbrellas and all -- for a special or even not-so-special occasion.
Don't minimize changes in your parents' health, even if they seem minor. These changes may be accompanied by fear, which can exacerbate even a minor problem. Address your parents' fears; be positive about your ability to find a solution.
Anemia is very common among older adults, usually resulting from either a loss of blood or a poor diet. Check with the doctor as to whether iron supplements (along with vitamin C, for better absorption) might be in order.
Help prevent infections by keeping antibacterial wet wipes handy at all times. Keep boxes of them around the house; individually wrapped ones can go in your purse or wallet and in the car.
Avoid foot fungus by keeping feet clean and dry. That means changing socks daily and shoes often. It's also a good idea to let feet "air out" once a day.
Nylon or synthetic socks are more likely to make feet sweat. Cotton is better.
If socks are too tight at the tops, they can interfere with circulation. Cut notches into them to make sure they don't bind.
Teach your loved one to respect pain. If something hurts, there's a reason for it.
Bedsores -- or pressure sores -- result when there is constant pressure on an area where bones are close to the skin's surface. Be on the lookout for problems in these most vulnerable areas: the head, the shoulders, the elbows, the base of the spine, the hips, the heels, and the ankles. Consult a doctor if you see red, cracking, or dried skin. In the meantime, encourage Dad to move about when he can, and don't leave him sitting or lying on a damp surface. Make sure linens are not irritating, and wash them often.
Always wear (disposable) rubber gloves when you suspect you might have any kind of skin disorder, such as a rash, an infection, or a lesion of any type.