Aging parents 102: Image of younger hand holding older hand wearing an emergency alert bracelet.

Aging Parents 102: A Little Help Please (Make that, a lot)

The Inciting Incident

One evening during July 2015, my guys and I returned from a parade downtown to find three messages on the answering machine. They all said the same thing: My mother had fallen at home and been transported to the hospital in her town, 45 minutes away. I packed a bag and drove down.

After two hours of testing, the hospital discharged Mom to my care. Despite the fact she could not walk without assistance.

Back at Mom’s house, I soon realized she couldn’t do anything without assistance. Stand, go to the bathroom, undress or dress herself, prepare food, eat, bathe.

That’s when I freaked out. What did I know of elder care?

If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, with no idea what to do, you came to the right place—Aging Parents: 102. If you missed the first post in this series, click here.

Today we’ll discuss things to consider once you recognize your folks need a little more help than before with day-to-day life functions.

Attention to Details

One of the scariest things a senior can experience is a fall. To prevent one, do your best to make your parents’ home as safe as possible. These things can help:

  • Take up all “throw rugs.”
  • Remove clutter on floor (ie. shoes, magazines, clothing, pet toys).
  • Install a “grab-bar” in the bathroom next to the commode.
  • Install a “grab-bar” in the shower stall or bathtub.
  • Consider a shower bench for bathing.
  • Tony Bear recommends making changes to your parents’ home to eliminate or decrease their use of steps. This means situating everything on the first floor of their house: their bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and washer/dryer.

Walk This Way

Once your parent becomes unsteady while walking, try to persuade them to use a walker. My mother’s doctor prefers the rolling kind with a seat.

My mom doesn’t use her walker all the time. In her assisted-living apartment, she walks without it. When she and I are out and about, she holds onto my arm. Inside her senior-living community, though, she uses it to walk to the dining room, beauty salon, her mailbox, etc..

Like a Good Neighbor

Keep a list of phone numbers for your parent’s neighbors. This way, if your parent doesn’t answer your call, you can ask their neighbor to check on them.

More than once, my mother has not hung up her phone properly. Which means every time I call, I get a busy signal. When she lived alone, after an hour or two of the busy signal, I’d call the folks across the street and have them check on Mom (and hang up her phone).

Inside Source

Ask your parent’s companion, friends, and neighbors to contact you whenever there’s a concern about your loved one.

When my mom still lived at home, her helper Jan would let me know if Mom took a tumble or developed a worrisome cough. One time she called because Mom forgot to pay her utilities.

Two years ago, a sweet BBT bank employee informed me Tony’s mom came to the bank three days in a row. In the same outfit. She thought that might be a possible red flag. And it was. More on that next week.

The doctor will see you now. 

Pam H., who wrote this super post about living with an aging parent, suggests you accompany your parents to doctor appointments. To provide a second set of ears. She also recommends you don’t interrupt your parent’s conversation with their physician. Uh, oh! I needed to hear that one.

Pam also suggests you provide any crucial medical information your parent may neglect to mention, accidentally or on purpose.

More than once I’ve been in that situation—knowing Mom was hiding something from her doctor. On one occasion, I slipped out of the exam room to whisper the info to the nurse who took Mom’s history. Another time, I phoned the doctor’s office to have a note added to her chart.

Money Matters

My occupational therapist friend, Juliana R., says to keep an eye on your parents’ finances: bank statements, check books, credit card bills, etc.. Neglect in this area can be an early indicator of cognitive decline.

In addition, keeping tabs on your parents’ finances can alert you if dubious individuals or organizations are trying to take advantage of your loved one. Before she passed away, Tony Bear’s mother answered every phone call. My mother does the same thing.

I can only believe that the elderly, due to their desire for human contact, are keeping many a fundraising company afloat. Whenever I flipped through Mom’s checkbook ledger I’d see evidence of their efforts. Donations to: public radio, the humane society, police and/or firemen organizations, political parties, political candidates, political action committees, etc.. Not to say they are bad causes. I worry that $20 here, $50 there, has the potential to financially devastate some individuals.

Ask your parent to glance at the Caller ID screen before answering the phone. If it’s not a friend, family member, or doctor’s office, suggest they ignore the call.

Some folks with ill intent come to the house instead of calling. When my Granny was alive, I remember my father’s fury each time he discovered people overcharging his mother for quick and easy labor: $700 to rake her leaves, for instance. No longer fully alert, Granny would write anyone a check.

Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!

I confess, I used to laugh at those commercials. Not any more. When my mother fell, she used her LifeAlert pendant to summon help.

Recently my brother-in-law’s mother did the same thing. With a system like this in place, you’re not only buying your parents’ safety. You’re purchasing peace of mind. Click here for a comparison of services.

I recommend signing up for an emergency-call service as soon as your parent seems less than 100%, especially balance-wise.

You may think a cell phone will suffice, but a cell phone only works if your parent has it on their person 24/7.

Weight Watchers

Cooking for one is no fun. That’s why often the elderly resort to convenience foods: frozen dinners, canned soup, etc.. Or nothing at all.

Whenever possible, bring tasty leftovers for your parents when you visit. Encourage local family members to do the same.

For Tony’s mom, we paid a newbie caterer to prepare yummy, nutritious meals. Once a week, for a great price, he delivered several suppers. And a hug.

Contact a physician whenever you notice your parent losing weight unintentionally. A frail frame can indicate malnutrition or an underlying health problem.

At my mother’s last check-up, concerned by a recent 6-pound weight loss, her doctor temporarily suspended one of her medications since it was a) non-essential and b) a known appetite suppressant.

Cookie Monster

For years now, my mother has been a ravenous cookie monster. Don’t believe me? One time her grocery list included four different kinds of cookies!

Tony Bear’s mom also had quite the sweet tooth. In fact, during her last year, Tony noticed she was  sometimes eating dessert instead of her supper.

Ever curious, I asked Dr. Google what was up. Turns out, the older we get, the fewer tastebuds we possess. As a result, sweeter and more highly-seasoned foods become more appetizing.

Body of Water

Make sure your parents drink enough water. Water is important to maintain energy levels and cognitive function. Joints need moisture for lubrication. Mouths too.

Before lab work or doctor appointments where there may be a blood draw, I encourage Mom to drink at least one glass of water to plump up her tiny veins. I also remind her to tell the person drawing her blood which arm she prefers and what kind of needle. On Mom, “butterfly needles” work best due to her narrow veins that tend to jump and roll.

Houston, we have a problem.

In time, you may have to be your parent’s technical adviser. This has been our experience. Both my mom and Tony Bear’s have required multiple house-calls to recalibrate televisions, telephones, answering machines, washing machines, etc..

May I see your driver’s license please?

Eventually both my parents stopped driving. Once Mom decided she no longer felt comfortable driving, she let her companion Jan chauffeur her to appointments and errands.

More than a decade ago, our family was thankful when my father surrendered his license peacefully at his physician’s request.

If you have a concern regarding your parents’ safety behind the wheel, speak to their doctor as soon as possible.

After your parents stop driving, take them to the local Department of Motor Vehicles for a non-operator’s driver’s license they can use as a photo ID.

Make a wish come true.

Myrtle Beach is my mother’s happy place. We vacationed there almost every summer of my childhood. Mom enjoyed searching for seashells on the beach each morning and eating luscious seafood each evening.

So when my mother turned 80, guess what we gave her as a birthday present? A trip to Myrtle Beach. Though she travelled with me, Tony, and our kids, my brothers pitched in funds toward our adventure.

Every morning Mom and I took a short stroll on the beach in our swimsuits and floppy hats. Every afternoon I slathered her with sunscreen so we could spend an hour or two by the pool, beneath a palm tree. We even ate at a few of the restaurants Mom and I remembered from the 70s.

Honor your parents.

I know it’s not easy to parent your parent, but as Tony Bear says, “Think of it as an honor to take care of them, not a chore. They took care of you for much of your life, now you can return the favor.”


To read the first post in this series, click here.

To read the next post in this series, click here.

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