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Don’t let the need to care for your parents sneak up on you

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Millions of baby boomers have put their own retirement plans on hold to help their aging parents navigate the golden years.

Often referred to as the “sandwich generation,” this group is now caring for aging loved ones while still raising their own children.

Boomers are being caught off guard by the need to care for their parents. This lack of preparedness along with fears for their loved one that range from isolation and loneliness to neglect and the question of who will pay for care, have left many to take on this task themselves.

Three generations or more are living under one roof in 4.4 million homes in the United States, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau. This is a 15 percent increase from 2008.

“People often say their parents are ‘getting old’ when in reality it could be early signs that caring for that parent is necessary,” shared Michael Hamaker, president, WellSpan VNA Home Care.

“Those in the ‘sandwich generation’ often find themselves in a very difficult position since they are caring for both their parents and their own children. This can result in little time to care for their own needs or live the life they originally envisioned.”

Inevitably, the demands take a physical and emotional toll, and caregivers are more likely to say their health is fair or poor. So is it possible to prevent this situation from “sneaking up on you?”

A personal visit to your loved one’s home is the best way to determine their health and well-being. By evaluating his/her appearance and home you can assess his/her condition.

If a personal visit is not possible, asking questions can often give you insight into your loved one’s physical and mental status.

  • Ask what was eaten for breakfast. If he or she can’t remember or the meal seems to lack nutritional value, it could indicate a problem.
  • Ask about their last haircut. Send a new type of toothpaste, then ask how it’s working. Not keeping up with personal hygiene is another sign that someone needs help.
  • To check memory, call two days in a row and ask about the previous conversation.
  • Ask about routine activities such as church or bingo. An early sign of depression is withdrawal from social activities.
  • Ask about routine home and vehicle maintenance to make sure it’s being done.
  • Listen for differences in speech patterns. Some patterns are warning signs of medical problems that need immediate attention.
  • Ask if there have been any recent falls, slips or trips in or around the home. Falls are a leading cause of injury.
  • Learn the medication schedule and then ask, “Now, remind me again, what’s that pill you take in the morning?” Your loved one may not be taking medicine at the times the doctor prescribed.

The best thing you can do is continue asking questions. Caring for a parent is not just about Mom or Dad, it is also about you and your family.

“Involve everyone in your discussions and decisions,” added Hamaker. “Looking to an outside agency for help and guidance can provide a different viewpoint and help facilitate the best for all parties.”

For more information about WellSpan VNA Home Care or other local resources, please call (877) 862-6006 or 812-4433, or visit www.wellspan.org/vnahomecare.

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