Items you will need
- Objectivity to overcome any denial
- A pocket-sized journal or notepad
- List of your parent's medications with dosage and instructions, and their physicians with phone numbers
- One-on-one time to spend with your parent on a regular basis
Often, you believe we are watching your elderly parent very closely. You want to take care of their changing needs just as they once cared for ours. But we can sometimes be too close to the situation, rather like not seeing the forest for the trees. These tips can help you monitor some key health areas that are often missed.
Once, they were our guides, our teachers and your safe place to fall. Now, we find ourselves in the position of giving back that level of tender care to them. When parents age, their day to day needs, as well as their health needs, change in what can seem to be the blink of an eye. Actually, it's usually a gradual process but we're busy with our own lives and are use to them being the backbone of the family. In any case, when you find yourself in the beginning stages of caregiver to a parent, your entire way of thinking must be revisited and altered in such a way that their wellbeing becomes your primary awareness.
Increase in repeating self. We all repeat ourselves from time to time, and to do so occasionally is probably nothing to be overly concerned about. But if an elderly parent begins to repeat themself on a constant basis, or if you see a marked increase in repetition, this could be warning sign. Educate yourself on stroke, dementia and Alzheimer's disease, just to be prepared. Discuss this with her doctor at the next visit, privately if at all possible. You don't want to alarm your parent but you will want an expert opinion if possible. While they cannot release personal information about your parent's health care, a physician can give you general information and note your concerns in his file.
Misplacing items and forgetting ordinary things. If her purse ends up in the refrigerator or his car keys are found in the microwave, you should definitely take note. If she cannot remember your name or how to get to her favorite grocery store, you may be seeing early signs of reduced mental capacity, such as Alzheimer's disease. There are a number of early warning signs for this disease. You should educate yourself on all of them. Keep a private notebook of the dates when incidences occur for a physician to reference if needed. The sooner a doctor can diagnose and treat Alzheimer's disease, the better. Be aware that forgetfulness and impaired language could also indicate a stroke. If you suspect a stroke, do not delay in getting medical attention.
Swelling. Swelling can be a benign thing, too much water retention or too much standing at one time. But it can also indicate more serious problems, among them congestive heart failure, diabetes or kidney problems. Determine if swelling is occasional or if it has become common. This should be reported to her physician, where he can determine what (if any) tests need to be done.
Dramatic mood changes. Mood changes can be nothing more than an elderly person having good days and bad days as their bodies become less dependable and user-friendly. It can mean more serious problems as well, such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, stroke, heart disease, and other health issues that will need medical attention. Judge mood swings by keeping them in your notepad for a while to see if they are becoming more consistent. Always seek medical advice if you feel this is a dramatic, sudden change.
Sudden numbness. Never ignore any numbness, even if there are seemingly no other symptoms. It can mean a variety of things, including but certainly not limited to a pinched nerve, stroke, or diabetes.
Sudden decrease in energy, appetite or interests. Depression can hit at any age, the elderly are especially vulnerable. These signs can mean a number of possible health concerns, but mental health should never be overlooked as a possibility.
Watching our parents age can be sad and frightening, but if we are fortunate enough to have them in our lives for that long it is a sure bet we'll have these issues to deal with. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of them. Find someone to talk to that can empathize with you and make time for yourself. Be ready to take the lead for the one that has so lovingly led you.
Keep your parent(s) occupied. Suggest they become involved in a senior community center, church activities, etc. If you cannot make regular visits, find a sibling, family member or family friend whose judgement you can trust to check in on your parents. Make sure your phone number and cell phone are on speed dial for your parents. It can help them (and you) rest easier knowing they can quickly contact you. Enjoy every opportunity you can with them.
When in doubt, get medical advice. Much better safe than sorry. Never use over-the-counter products with the elderly unless advised by a physician. They can interact negatively with prescription medications.
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