Since 1983, November has been recognized as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. In the past 35 years, the number of individuals diagnosed with the disease has increased from less than 2 million to more than 5 million.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are steps you can take to help an individual with the disease. These include things like keeping a daily routine, saying only one thing at a time, providing reassurance and remaining calm at all times. Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient becomes more difficult over time as the disease progresses and many families believe that a nursing home or memory care facility is the only way to keep their loved one safe. This is not always the case, however.
When a parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the immediate reaction is often to immediately move them to a memory care facility or hire a full-time caregiver. While this may be necessary down the road, early stage Alzheimer’s is often mild and can last for years. In other words, you don’t have to make any hasty decisions.
The first thing you need to do is to talk to your parent’s physician to see how far the disease has progressed. If they are still in the early stages, ask yourself a few questions. Is your parent able to make their own meals? Can they remember when to take medications? If they want to stay in their own home, it is likely that they can do so with only a few adjustments.
What follows is a list of some of the things you need to consider if you have a parent who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and would prefer to say in their own home:
- Transportation: When the time comes for your parent to stop driving, you will need to come up with a schedule for friends and family members to drive them where they need to go such as the grocery store or doctor appointments.
- Meals: As Alzheimer’s progresses, it can be difficult and unsafe for your loved one to cook. Thankfully, there are several options such as meal planning kits and Meals on Wheels. You also could come over to help your parent prepare meals that can be microwaved throughout the week.
- Companionship: A home healthcare worker can prevent your parent from feeling isolated. This person also can help with bathing and light housekeeping. A home healthcare worker can assess your parent’s condition and call you if there are any changes in your loved one’s memory, behavior or overall well-being.
- Safety. Any elderly person who lives alone, especially one who has Alzheimer’s, must be kept safe. Your parent should have their phone nearby at all times with phone numbers of people who can help them already programmed into the phone. They also should carry a card with the name of a family member and physician to contact in an emergency. Cameras placed throughout the house and wearable devices also are good ideas.
Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s is no easy task and the first reaction is often to move that parent out of their home immediately. If your parent wishes to stay in their home, however, there are ways to make that possible.
When an elderly parent is discharged from the hospital you are likely to feel a variety of emotions. While it is certainly a cause for celebration, the discharge process and transition can be stressful. This is especially true if you are unsure of the level of care your loved one will require once they leave the hospital and return home.
When it comes time for a parent to be discharged from a hospital or rehabilitation center, it helps to know what to expect. Before the big day comes, Joan Davelis, RN, of Physician’s Choice Private Duty, recommends adult children ask themselves the following questions:
- Does my parent’s home have the necessary equipment to keep them safe?
- Will there be a responsible person at home with my parent?
- Who will be responsible for making sure that my parent gets the proper nutrition?
- What guidelines are in place for the correct distribution of medications?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help reduce the chance of being blindsided when your parent arrives home. It also is essential that you talk with your parent’s primary care physician well in advance of discharge so that a specific health care plan can be put in place.
The more you know what to expect regarding your loved one’s living situation in advance, the better. It is important to write down any questions you have for your parent’s primary care provider so that you don’t forget any. What follows is a list of questions to get you started:
- What specific therapies will my parent require?
- Will we need help with bathing or dressing?
- Will my loved one require someone to be with them 24 hours a day?
- What problems or symptoms do we need to look for?
- Who do we call in an emergency?
If your loved one requires medical equipment or an in-home caregiver, you should talk with their health insurance carrier or Medicare to find out what is covered before your parent leaves the hospital.
Most elderly patients returning home after a hospital stay or stint in a rehab center will require time to adjust to their “new normal.” While in a perfect world you could be there with your parent 24 hours a day while they adjust, this is not always possible. The next best option is to arrange for in-home care.
If your loved one was relatively independent before their hospital stay, it may take them some time to get used to having to ask for help. Here are some ways to make that easier:
- Interview potential caregivers to ensure that they are a good fit for your parent. A quality home health care agency will work with you to make sure your parent is comfortable with their in-home caregiver. Consider having the caregiver visit your loved one in the hospital so they can become acquainted.
- Ask the home health care agency to evaluate the safety of your parent’s home and recommend any areas that need to be addressed. For example, adding toilet safety rails.
- Let the caregiver know your loved one’s likes and dislikes. This includes everything from food to television channels.
A successful discharge from the hospital and transition back to home can be stressful on your parent and you. However, having a plan in place and knowing what questions to ask will allow for as smooth a transition as possible. It also will go a long way toward preventing readmissions.
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