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Senior-Friendly Lifestyle Changes

Whenever I put off doing some chore as a kid, my mom would say, “What do you think you're doing, living the life of Riley?” I didn't know who Riley was, but if meant taking it easy, I knew it was a good life. So how do we give your parents the “life of Riley”? Remember, this is about offering them a catered lifestyle to make performing the daily tasks of life easier. It isn't about focusing on disabilities or making them feel like they're losing control.

Catered Meals

Silver Lining

If you, your siblings, and other relatives can't think of what to give your parents for holidays and birthdays, consider buying some personal services such as lawn care, snow removal, and housekeeping. You could also contract with a chore service agency who can come over to fix lights, appliances, doors, locks, or whatever your parents need to have done.

You might not need this service right away, but if you begin to notice either one of your parents not feeling like preparing food, losing weight, or losing his or her appetite, consider calling the area agency on aging or a local senior center for the nearest Meals on Wheels program in your parents' area. If you sign up with Meals on Wheels, you'll be asked to pay a very modest amount based on your parents' income. Meals on Wheels volunteers can prepare meals for special diets, and for those of you in cold climates, they can also provide “blizzard boxes,” which are frozen meals meant to be eaten when volunteers can't get to clients during winter storms.

If you or your siblings enjoy cooking, prepare meals for the week that can easily be popped into the microwave. New services are cropping up every day that will deliver catered meals to the home. (No, not my teenager's version of Meals on Wheels: Pizza Hut.)

Also encourage your parents to get out and join a local senior center where they can eat lunch daily for a small donation for the meal. There are tremendous resources at a senior center besides lunch. It's a great chance for Mom or Dad to get involved in other activities, volunteer, and receive the latest information on health care, healthy living, consumer protection, and insurance. Many senior centers even offer primary health care clinics and exercise programs on site.

Pills on Delivery and Daily Dispensers

If your mom needs to have her prescriptions filled or refilled, check into local pharmacies that will make home deliveries so she can keep up with her medicines. If Mom is taking quite a few pills, be sure to get her one of those pill organizers you can buy at the pharmacy. Many of these clearly marked plastic organizers can be used for a week's supply of pills that she can organize into as many as four dosages a day— morning, noon, evening, and bedtime. If she is taking a large number of pills, like a friend of mine who has had a kidney transplant, you could get a pill organizer for every day of the week. If you visit your mom weekly, you or a neighbor could fill all the daily organizers for the whole week and avoid any confusion your mom might experience sorting out all those tiny pills. If she has her pills categorized in an organizer, it's easy to know at the end of the day if she's taken all of them.

Easy Fashions

Buttons and hard-to-reach zippers in the back of dresses are troublesome for arthritic hands. With some creative shopping and a little tailoring, you can make getting “all dolled up” a lot easier. Look for dresses that have zippers with large pulls, shoes with Velcro closures or slip-on shoes, zipperless fashions like dresses that slip over the head with a wide necks, coat-like dresses, wrap-around skirts, or skirts with elastic that just pull up. Get your dad clip-on ties and your mom easy-to-use scarf ties (napkin rings work well). For more casual wear, place elastic shoe strings on sneakers so they slip on while still tied, and don't forget about sweatpants or other pull-on slacks!

No More Bad Hair Days!

My hairdresser volunteers at a nursing home and she has an older clientele. When she heard that I was doing this book, she urged me to remind baby boomers how much their mothers love getting their hair done. For many, it is the highlight of the week and it definitely is a mental health boost. So here's another great gift that Mom can't get enough of: gift certificates to her favorite hair stylist. Oh, and don't forget the manicure, a treat you can give her anytime she or the both of you go to the mall.

Gadgets Galore

Thanks to inventive entrepreneurs who've focused on the needs of senior living, there are all kinds of gadgets out there that can make your parents' lives easier. The durable medical equipment (DME) business that I mentioned is very familiar with what Medicare covers and does not. Almost all of these businesses will deliver what you need and even install it. Just make sure that your mom really needs it. Even though Medicare might cover it, remember, we all are paying for it through our taxes and we need to conserve the Medicare Trust Fund for all of us. It's not free. Some of the things these companies sell—like an egg crate foam mattress—can be picked up at any discount bedding store for a fraction of what DMEs charge. To find a DME near you, just look in the yellow pages under Medical Equipment or Home Health Care.

Can We Talk?

Your mom might not be Joan Rivers, but I'm sure she loves to talk. There are some great phones available today that have large dials, large caller ID displays (something most older people really like and need to identify all of the scam artists trying to sell them something), and accelerated volume in the receiver. You'll need to send over your teenager to program the memory dials and get things set up, but it will make Mom's life easier. It's also nice for Mom to have a portable phone that she can take with her when she's in the bathroom, so that she can reach someone if she should slip and fall.

A Real-Life Story

Ironically and sadly, my stepfather died while I was writing this chapter. My mom, who would now live alone, is losing sight in one eye due to macular degeneration. I'd like to share with you some of the things we did as a family to make living at home easier and safer for my mom. Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own situation:

  • Got rid of three throw rugs in the hallways.
  • Bought her new hot pads (she was using towels).
  • Got her a new phone with big button dials and a built-in caller ID that was easy to read. She's also going to keep the phone number in her husband's name so if someone she calls has caller ID, they won't think she lives alone.
  • Bought her a new Rolodex (Mom's real active). We used large font type to print her a new set of name and address cards that she could read more easily.
  • Bought her a new calculator with large print.
  • Met several of her neighbors and the parish priest, and exchanged phone numbers in case we should need to contact them.
  • Since Mom lives 3,000 miles away from all of her four children, we are now coordinating our schedules with visits so that one of us or our grown children will be visiting with her every few months.

More on: Aging Parents

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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.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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