Caregivers’ Corner: ‘Tis the Season to Check Parents’ Safety

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2016 19:48

We are known as the Sandwich Generation.

Many of us are blessed to have one or both of our parents still alive. We can also enjoy our maturing children and delight, if we’re lucky, in our grandchildren. We are at once grandparents, parents and children.

But we are also the Caregiver Generation. And sometimes caring for members of two or three generations surrounding us can be taxing.

Our kids may or may not appreciate our efforts to help. Our grandkids, of course, think we’re the best. But our parents, while they love us, may resent our efforts to keep them safe.

We’re also at an age when Father Time, uninvited, begins to erode our bodies and our senses. Vision, hearing, taste and the sense of smell, as well as our joints, bones, muscles and organs all begin to slip. Our minds, though containing decades of wisdom and knowledge, take more time to process and access information.

As we recognize these inexorable changes in ourselves, we notice them even more in the generation before us – our parents.

Since this is the time of year when families gather and celebrate, it’s a good time to check on our mothers and fathers. Have they declined since the last time you saw them? Are their memories fading? Are they steady on their feet?

Don’t simply write off changes as natural signs of aging. Instead, ask questions and seek answers.

Why is Mom ignoring me when I wave to her? Why does Dad keep telling us we’re mumbling? Is Dad’s driving as bad as Mom says? Should I worry about Mom misplacing her purse?

Mom not seeing your wave may reveal a normal decline in peripheral vision. She may be getting cataracts, or her vision could be narrowing with the onset of dementia – or she could simply be focused on the antics of her darling great-grandchild. Without a simple explanation, a visit with her doctor or ophthalmologist is in order.

Dad’s complaints about mumbling may be because he’s losing his ability to distinguish consonants – a normal part of aging – or might be something more. Consider a trip to his health-care provider or to an audiologist for hearing aids.

Driving can be a touchy topic, and Mom may not be able to talk Dad out of his car keys. If Dad’s driving has indeed become terrifying, you can step up and offer to be the bad guy.

That “please give up the keys” conversation could be easier than you expect. If not, however, you can report him to the California Department of Motor Vehicles confidentially (find the “Potentially Unsafe Driver” form online at dmv.ca.gov).

He will be called for a driving test, which could result in revocation of his license or restrictions on it. You should also warn his doctor, who can be an ally in prying the keys away.

Mom’s lost purse may be a product of distraction amid holiday excitement, or it may signal something more serious. If it happens regularly, it’s time for a doctor’s appointment.

When your parent goes to the physician’s office, ask to come along. Listen, take notes, ask questions and follow up with the doctor later. If your dad or mom says no, consider calling or emailing his or her doctor.

Without a release from your parent, privacy laws prevent health-care providers from sharing information. But they are free to receive information, so send a letter to the doctor describing what you’re concerned about and what behaviors you’ve noticed.

If you’re worried about dementia in either of your folks, check out the Quick Dementia Rating System in the Spring 2016 issue of Friends and Neighbors, or find it online at seniorfan.com. It’s an accurate, easy questionnaire to fill out and share with mom or dad’s doctor.

That said, also take time to savor the wonder of having all of your family together in one place and one time. Enjoy the season.

Joan Jackson is a partner with husband Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (209-588-1835), whose services include free caregiver groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging. Read more of her columns online at seniorfan.com.

Copyright © 2016 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2016 19:48
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