When you help a loved one through some of the big life changes that come with aging, you'll share some of the good times and some of the tougher ones. A lot of the changes that come up, such as moving and accepting changes in what they can do, are both emotional and practical. It can be challenging for you, as the caregiver, and them, as someone who’s probably used to being independent.
If you’re the person who’s making all the decisions, or if other people in your family are also taking part, you can take steps to get ready for these shifts. And the more prepared you are, the more ready you may feel to handle these changes, step by step.
Is It Time to Move?
As people get older, their needs may change. The home they’ve lived in and loved for years might not work so well for them now.
For example, your mom may need a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor so she doesn't have to climb stairs. She might need a little help and feel ready to move in with you or other relatives. If she eventually needs more medical or personal care than your family can give her, you might discuss an assisted living space or a skilled nursing home.
You can check with your local Area Agency on Aging to see if it’s possible to get a home safety evaluation. There are also checklists online to give you some pointers on how to make your loved one’s home safer.
Falls are a big risk. Look for things that someone could trip on, and remove them. Make sure that rugs have non-slip backing.
Check on the lighting in your loved one’s home. Do you need more lights, or brighter bulbs?
In the bathroom, install grab bars in and outside the tub or shower, and next to the toilet.
Stairs should have railings on both sides. You may also want to paint the top edge of steps a contrasting color (for instance, a white strip at the edge of a black step) and put non-slip tape on the steps.
Involve your loved one in as many decisions as possible. If possible, provide choices between different apartments, condos, or assisted-living communities. Smaller choices -- like paint colors and how to arrange the furniture -- also matter, just as those choices would matter to you in your own home. You want your loved one to feel good in their space.
If you’re looking at assisted living, nursing homes, and other facilities, visit them in person. Bring your loved one on a tour and ask questions, so you both have a good sense of what living there would be like.
Remember, moving is a lot of work. You can pitch in by sorting through books, clothes, furniture, and their other belongings. That can bring up memories, which you want to be sensitive to, while still helping them let things go, so they're ready on moving day.
Are They OK to Drive?
If you’re not sure, you can ask your loved one’s doctor to do a driving safety evaluation and vision, thinking, or memory tests.
It can be hard for someone to give up their car keys, even if it’s clear that they aren’t up to it any more. It’s really not about the driving. It’s the loss of independence. For many, driving keeps them active and involved in their communities. Not being able to get around by themselves changes everything.
If the doctor thinks it's OK for your loved one to drive but you're still worried, you can suggest some things that may ease your stress.
- Agree that your loved one will only drive during the day.
- Make sure the car is in good shape.
- Make drives to the grocery store something you do together every week.
- Offer to take your loved one in for regular eye and health exams.
- Ask her doctor to review her medications -- over-the-counter drugs and prescription meds -- to cut side effects.
- Plan routes ahead of time.
- Look into a driving safety class for older adults, and encourage your loved one to take one.
- Keep the radio low or off, and insist on no cell phones or eating while driving.
If you've decided she'd be safer not getting behind the wheel anymore, have an honest talk with her about why she should stop driving. Suggest ways she can get around instead, so she can stay as independent as possible. Some churches offer elderly people rides to and from services. See if there's public transportation or a senior bus service she can use. There are also ride-sharing services in many cities.
The death of a spouse or partner is one of the most stressful things anyone can go through. The grief can last for a long time.
You know that someone going through grief will need a lot of support. You may notice changes in her emotions. Her feelings might go back and forth from very sad one day, to cheerful the next, to angry after that. These swings happen less often and ease up over time, but they can last for years.
You’ll want to respect what she's going through, and also encourage her to take care of herself. You can:
- Listen to her talk about the person who died.
- Take care of her physical needs. Make sure she eats well, gets enough sleep and exercise, and takes any medications.
- Be patient. Grief can make a person forgetful and disorganized, unable to focus, and less interested in things that used to be favorite pastimes.
- Encourage her to see friends.
- Encourage counseling -- whether with a therapist, clergy (if the person is religious), or a social worker.