Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Elder Dilemma

Waiting. . .  the Florida Coast (Photo by DG Hudson)

North American natives call them Elders, a form of respect towards those most of us call grandparents or seniors. We have an aging population which forms a large demographic segment. That fact isn’t going away. How we deal with them tells a lot about our capacity for caring and about the fears we have for their safety. It’s an issue most of us will have to deal with, if we have parents who are unable to care for themselves any longer.

Elder care is an uncharted area for most of us, but we need to know what to do when we see the first signs of dementia, or Alzheimer’s. Seniors can be coping with an unreliable memory in addition to the loss of adequate sight or hearing. The symptoms can appear gradually and go unnoticed. The elderly will attribute their lack of balance, forgetfulness, or confusion to other causes rather than admit they have lost the ability to be independent.

We need to ensure they are treated with dignity and not shunted aside. If home care is not an option, then you will need to research care homes (as in full care), and have the senior assessed as to whether they have dementia or other age related illnesses.

Decisions will have to be made regarding power of attorney (if the parent is the only survivor and is at the onset of dementia), and applications made for registering a senior in a suitable facility. Depending on the senior’s budget, various levels of care are available. Application for subsidy assistance for low income seniors is made to the local health authority in most instances.

Warning Signs

  • Confusion
  • Losing Money or Valuables (this can include dentures or hearing aids)
  • Getting lost & driven home by police
  • Taking longer than usual on public transit, or getting injured (falling getting on or off public transit)
  • Inability to state their own address or telephone number, or other basic information

Even when asked, a senior won’t admit to any loss of the five senses or their own physical abilities, since that would mean losing some of their own independence. We, as caretakers or relatives, have to be aware of the warning signs early on to prevent the senior having an accident. Find out what you need to do so you’ll be prepared. We can help them keep their dignity.

Key Points

Recognize when home care isn’t enough. Be realistic about the senior’s needs as well as your own capabilities. Seniors must be assessed for competence in caring for themselves, and for the early warning signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. This is done by the family physician and the local Health Authority.

Research your options. Information regarding programs for seniors is found under Senior Care or Social Services departments. Discuss legal implications such as power of attorney with the parent.  This needs to be done before the memory loss escalates. To change power of attorney requires a notary public and the parent needs to be able to understand what he/she is doing (signing over legal responsibility to another person).

This post is written from personal experience. It can be very stressful when you don’t know what to do or who to call. A good place to start is to talk to the senior’s family physician about any concerns. 

Ask questions, it’s the only way to start getting answers. 

Any questions or comments regarding this post are welcome.

Calm and Balance - Florida seacoast  (photo by DG Hudson)