The holidays are a good time to discuss living arrangements with elderly parents.
So says Tom Merryweather, owner of an Oklahoma City metro Visiting Angels franchise. Visiting Angels provides in-home nonmedical care and companionship to people who need some help remaining independent.
“We do house cleaning,” he said. “We fix their meals. We do their shopping. … We do a lot of work with Alzheimer's patients, helping with bathing and toileting. We do everything that is required to allow these people to stay in their home and not go to a nursing home.”
Holiday visits provide an ideal opportunity to assess how older parents are functioning and look for warning signs that they may be getting overwhelmed, he said. Few people wish to give up their independence or vacate their homes, but many could use a little help.
“Look at how they're dressing and if they're taking their medications as they should,” Merryweather said. “With Alzheimer's patients, the disease is progressive. You have to watch how those patients are doing once the sun goes down. That can produce a lot of anxiety.”
A Visiting Angels tip sheet identifies other symptoms to watch for:
• Has their wardrobe drastically changed?
• Are their clothes clean?
• Do they have body odor (which could suggest they need help bathing, washing hair or brushing teeth)?
• Have they made drastic changes to their physical appearance, such as wearing more or less makeup or not using their dentures?
• Is the house at its usual level of tidiness, or has it taken a change for the worse?
• Are dishes piling up?
• Is there expired food in the pantry?
• Are they eating enough and drinking sufficient amounts of water?
• Are their medications organized, or is there a scattered collection of medicines, including some that has expired?
• Are they still participating in activities they enjoy, and are they able to get where they want to go?
• Do they understand their medications? Have they skipped or forgotten medical appointments?
• Are they paying bills on time? Are they keeping up with their mail?
Bear in mind that what's important is behavioral changes. Any one difference may not be significant; medications, for example, can sometimes cause bad breath or odd odors. Multiple changes suggest a higher possibility that a parent needs assistance.
Don't be surprised, Merryweather said, if your parents already are aware they need help. They may not want to initiate a conversation about it for fear of having to leave their home. They may even have sought help on their own.
“There are generally at least a half dozen ads in the newspaper every week from individuals saying, ‘I'm old. I need help. I have money to pay you. Here's my name and number,'” he said. “Someone who's not trained comes in and takes advantage of them. When I go see them, I hear story after story from people saying they were treated poorly or lost $50,000 or had their silverware stolen.”
Visiting Angels and similar organizations run background checks on potential hires. Applicants are subjected to drug tests. Many employees already had a proven track record of working in the home care field before they were hired. Families may meet with and interview care providers to insure a good fit.
Services range from brief visits in the morning or evening to 24-hour live-in care.
The costs are not insubstantial.
“This stuff unfortunately can be expensive,” said Merryweather, who bought his Visiting Angels franchise after deciding to shut down his Chicago insurance agency. “We're charging $17 an hour. Less than that if we do live-in care. That's a daily rate of a couple hundred dollars.
“That's not an easy nut for some people. For a lot of people.”
Set aside some time this holiday season to talk with your parents about what they want and need to remain independent. For those who require it, in-home assistance can be the perfect holiday gift.