It's pretty rare these days for immediate family members to be living in one place. When you add on the remarriages of parents and adult children, it gets even more complicated. If your parents live far away, making sure that they are being taken care of presents its own set of problems. But with thoughtful planning and smart advance work, you can be very effective at being the good son or daughter they deserve.
Advance teams for political campaigns can make or break an event—and a candidate. It's their job to scope out the town, know the hot-button issues in that community, get everybody's name right, know who to invite, and brief the candidate. You'll need to do somewhat of the same. Think of it as your parents' campaign to make it on their own. They're the candidates and you're the advance team. Here's what you do:
If your parent is on a limited income or frets over the costs of long-distance bills, consider getting an 800 number so Mom or Dad will feel free to call you.
- Get to know the neighbors. Identify one or two neighbors whom you trust who will look in on your parent on a regular basis. Exchange phone numbers so that you can call them if you become concerned about your mom or dad, and they can call you. If you and your parent are comfortable with the arrangement, give them a set a keys. Make sure the neighbor's phone number is programmed on your parent's phone, so he or she is just a button away from fast access.
- Get to know the mail carrier. The mail carrier is in a position to notice if Mom or Dad has stopped picking up the mail. Many post offices and utility companies have elder-watch programs that will alert the area agency on aging to contact family members if they suspect a problem. Contact the area agency on aging to sign your parent up for such a program.
- Get to know the bankers. Maybe it's a good thing, after all, that our parents' generation still likes the good old human touch of a bank teller and bank manager. An ATM machine sure won't give you a call that Mom or Dad has been asking to take out large sums of money. Or that a stranger accompanied them when he opened his safety deposit box. Introduce yourself to the banking staff and give them your phone number to call you if they think something is amiss.
- Get to know your parent's best friends. My husband and I both have mothers who live alone in Phoenix. We're in Philadelphia. We have a list of friends for each of our Mom's and when we go to visit, we make it a point to keep up with their friends. We've each had occasions to call those friends when our moms needed help until we could get there. Our moms are both in pretty good health, active, and independent. Yet, when they have the flu or a medical problem hits, it's good to call on some friends who will get groceries, fix some chicken soup, and look in on them. They can also become your eyes and ears, alerting you to changes and concerns that you won't pick up in a phone call or even during a short visit. They'll be more inclined to open up to you if you've developed a relationship with them, too. So, include them on a visit and bring a plant or flowers to show your appreciation.
- Get to know the community services. Call the local United Way to get a directory of community services in your parent's area. Call the local senior center to find out what services are available for your parent. And of course, get the phone number of the area agency on aging. Be sure to save all of their background material and place it in your folder (see “How to Get Organized for Health Care”). Get to know the eligibility criteria prior to actually needing the service. That way you won't lose precious time or be “in the dark” as to what is available to your parent when the need hits.
- Get to know the home health services network. You'll need to get to know the home health services network available to your parent, so that when Mom or Dad need it you can spring into action. If your parent is using home health care, be sure to call every day to get a report on how he or she is doing.
- Bring home the phone book! A good advance team has everybody's phone numbers. So next time you're visiting, bring back an extra copy of your parents' local phone book. The Yellow Pages are especially helpful.
- Set up a chore services network. If your parents need help mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, walking the dog, or keeping up with minor house repairs, see if there is a neighbor or local college student who can be paid to help out. If you need to go a more formal route, contact the area agency on aging to see if they can identify someone for you.
More on: Aging Parents
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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