In this blog we’ll discuss making decisions about health care for older adults, recognizing a need for healthcare support when it comes to a loved one. In the next blog, we’ll cover choosing a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Each year you get to spend with your parents and other elder loved ones is a gift. Still, you know there may come a day when you must have a difficult conversation and make some difficult choices regarding health care for older adults in your life and the elder care he or she requires.
How Do I Know When There's a Need for Healthcare Support?
First, determine if your elder loved one has a need for healthcare support.
In some cases, such as when a parent falls and breaks a bone, it’s obvious they are going to need extra healthcare support for a certain time period. However, sometimes the changes in their ability to take care of themselves are gradual, and it is hard to know the right time to step in. This can be made even more difficult when an older adult is reluctant to give up their independence, or even admit that they can’t do all the things they used to do.
Factors in Recognizing Need for Healthcare Support
So, how do you recognize when help is needed? Take into consideration the following factors, as suggested by the Mayo Clinic:
- Daily Routines and Household Care: Notice whether your loved one is still dressing herself thoughtfully and completing routine hygiene tasks like bathing and brushing her teeth. Another telltale sign that she's not doing so well on her own is if household tasks are left undone: burnt out light bulbs, overgrown gardens, and other neglected housework could indicate a need for help.
- Memory Loss: Look for major lapses, like getting lost in his own neighborhood or regularly forgetting words.
- Safety: Notice if she has trouble climbing stairs or keeping her balance.
- Driving: Asking a loved one to stop driving can be difficult, but if his safety (and the safety of others on the road) is at stake, it's necessary. Notice if he is slow to react to traffic, misses signs, or demonstrates poor judgment when he's behind the wheel.
- Weight Loss: There are many reasons for weight loss, including an illness. However, your loved one could also be having trouble working in the kitchen if it's hard for her to read labels or hold on to pans and other utensils. She might not be cooking as much as she used to.
- Mood: A sudden turn in mood and outlook could indicate depression or a health condition that needs medical intervention. If the situation isn’t resolved, it can indicate it’s time to step in and help.
- Social Life: Having friends and social support is important at any age. If your loved one is lonely, it could drastically affect his health. According to Psychology Today: "Human beings are social animals, and the tenor of our social life is one of the most important influences on our mental health. Without positive, durable relationships, both our minds and our bodies fall apart."
- Mobility: Make sure your loved one can still move without pain and that she is both willing and able to run errands and go to appointments.
Would Assistive Technology or Devices Help in Senior Care?
Second, determine if there are options that you need for healthcare support of a loved one that would allow your loved one to continue to care for themselves, such as assistive technology or devices designed for senior care support. For example:
- Would having a medical alert monitoring system in place make everyone feel more at ease?
- Are you worried about certain mobility issues around the house? Are there assistive devices that can help, such as a motorized chair for greater mobility, a ramp to enter and exit the house safely, tools to reach things on high shelves, handrails for the bathroom, or a chair lift for the stairs?
- Is the issue more about safety when driving? If so, can the situation be resolved by getting your loved one to use alternative transportation like a bus, taxi, or lift service? Can they have their groceries delivered instead of heading to the store themselves? Is there someone who could volunteer to pick up incidentals or take them to appointments?
- Do they just need help with specific tasks? Could a handyman service help or a handy friend or family member offer assistance? Can they hire a housekeeper or someone to do the laundry?
- Are they just not doing a good job of eating healthy? Can Meals on Wheels help or can a meal delivery service be used? Would seeing a nutritionist help them get on a better plan for eating? Can the family provide support by offering to make meals or do the grocery shopping so they know the pantry and refrigerator are stocked with good food?
What Type of Care is Required When Seniors Need Healthcare Support?
Third, if more help is needed, determine the type and level of care that makes the most sense. The following are four basic options and the one you choose will depend on your loved one’s unique needs and what you are able to provide.
Family Caregiving of Seniors
Family caregiving may be the right choice when the loved one needs company and some basic help with household chores or possibly hygiene tasks. She might be able to stay in her own home, and the caregivers can visit every day to make a meal, clean up, and help her in and out of the bathtub.
If the family has space and there is a greater time commitment to the care necessary, you might invite your loved one to move in with you. This is a great option for some families and not so great for others. You have to take a close look at the size of your home and how the presence of another family member will change the dynamic of your living situation.
Keep in mind that caregiving can feel like a full-time job. It takes time and energy. The caregivers must be sure they are protecting their own mental and physical health. Care coordination services can be a big help in organizing medical records, getting doctor appointments scheduled, communicating with healthcare providers, and locating community resources.
Home Care Health Aide for Seniors
If you don't have space in your home or the time to devote to caregiving, or if your loved one has a greater need for health care support, you might choose to hire a home health aide as a way to meet your loved one's need for healthcare support. Depending on your needs and budget, this could be a nurse, a certified professional, or a compassionate person who can help with basic tasks.
Choosing Assisted Living as a Senior Care Option
An assisted living facility can feel like an apartment complex, with lots of activities and services for your loved one to take advantage of. Some share a campus with a skilled nursing facility for more immediate medical care, but generally assisted living is about filling that need for healthcare support by helping with daily activities and providing basic medical monitoring, while allowing for some senior independence. Assisting living services usually include daily meals, social programs, 24-hour supervision and security, and help with dressing, basic housekeeping, laundry, transportation, and shopping.
Choosing a Nursing Home for Elder Healthcare Support
A nursing home is more of a hospital setting and can be necessary when your loved one has a specific need for healthcare support, such as a medical condition that requires constant medical support, a serious mobility issue, or if he or she is unable to take care of activities of daily life. Often, the need for a nursing home is permanent, but sometimes a short-term nursing home stay might be required. This may happen when a loved one recovers from an illness or injury, but has a good chance, upon recovery, to either move back home or at least into an assisted living facility.
More On Fulfilling Need for Healthcare Support for Older Adults
The first step in choosing healthcare for your aging loved one is recognizing the specifics of their need for healthcare support. If you can see that senior assisted living or a nursing home is required, the next steps will be talking to your loved one about it and choosing the right senior care home. We will cover those steps in the next blog post.