In this season of gratitude and grace, we offer tips to help you gently support your family member to live as safely and independently as possible.
Engage with Grace
Thanksgiving is a time we traditionally gather with family to celebrate our gratitude for life. As those who are dealing with a serious illness know, life is a gift. The fact that it does not last forever is part of what makes life precious. Join others who are choosing to spend a portion of this holiday gathering to engage with grace. This is a national movement to gracefully promote family discussions about end-of-life preferences. Talking with family is key to ensuring that your own wishes are followed. In caring for a family member, knowing that person’s wishes ahead of time reduces the potential for guilt and conflict.
You can lead the way by reviewing with your family your own answers to these questions:
- Who would you like to have make decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself? Ideally, you have completed an advance directive. In this document, you name your medical power of attorney and give him or her some basic instructions. Use this time to let others know whom you have chosen and what you would like.
- Where would you like to spend your last days? At home or in a hospital? What would be the most comforting?
- Do you want aggressive medical treatment right up to the end? If so, make sure your family knows to advocate for you.
- Would you prefer minimal intervention? Depending on the circumstances, your priority in your last weeks may be to live as normally as possible, placing quality over quantity. Prepare your family to accept this as your choice.
During this season of thanks, you can thank your family for their support of you and encourage them to share their wishes as well.
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Help Mom be a safer driver
Don’t be surprised if your aging parent reacts with some defensiveness if you raise the topic of driving skills. No one wants to have their independence snatched away! Make it obvious from the start that it’s a mutual goal to keep your loved one safely on the road. And that it’s not an all or nothing situation.
Here are several options for supporting your parent’s continued safe driving:
- Mature driver refresher classes. These classes are often sponsored by AARP or a local AAA club (American Automobile Association). Classes offer practical information on easy ways to accommodate the natural changes of aging[link back to natural changes of aging article]. They tend to be informal and include a lot of group discussion. Plus, persons over 55 may qualify for a discount on their car insurance! Online classes cost less than $20 and are offered by both AARP and AAA. Or, contact a professional driving specialist for a personalized, behind-the-wheel evaluation.
- Staying physically flexible. Being able to turn to look behind you is critical to safe driving. Encourage your loved one to practice simple flexibility exercises.
- Maintaining car fitness. Make sure the car is properly adjusted for your parent. Especially important is the ability to see clearly in all directions. The addition of wide-angle mirrors, for instance, can help reduce blind spots. Be sure the wipers are in good shape. Maintain the car for road safety, too. Tires should be properly inflated and have adequate tread. And don’t forget to have the brakes checked regularly.
- Improving driving habits. A few simple changes can greatly reduce the chance of problems. Suggest Mom reduce or avoid driving at night or in bad weather. Stick to routes and times with less traffic. Make fewer left turns. (Three right turns are much safer!) And practice extra caution in parking lots and when changing lanes.
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Managing medications: Remembering to take medicines
It seems that the older we get, the more pills we take. Remembering to take them, and to take them on time, can challenge even the sharpest mind.
If your loved one has occasional memory lapses, getting into a good routine for taking medications might be all that’s necessary to stick with the doctor’s recommendations. Some suggestions:
- Keep pills in sight. Good places might include the kitchen table or counter, or a bureau top. Keep them away from direct sunlight by a window or a steamy room, such as a bathroom.
- Link with other habits. Work with your loved one to associate pill-taking time with other routines, such as morning coffee or brushing teeth.
- Use a pill box. Pill boxes organize daily doses for a week. The simplest have seven compartments. Others have two or three compartments per day for am/pm doses.
- Add an alarm. Consider a pill box or a wristwatch with an alarm. Or program your loved one’s cell phone to ring a specific tone when it’s time to take a pill.
More active support may be necessary if your loved one has ongoing memory issues. Among the options available:
- Automated pill dispenser. These dispensers sound an alarm and open a dispensing drawer when it is time to take a pill. Some can notify you if a dose is skipped. Check the federal government’s database of available products.
- Telephone reminder. For a monthly fee, your loved one receives timed, daily phone calls and an automated message to take his or her medications. Some services will notify you if the phone is not answered.
- Email or text message. MyMedSchedule’s no-cost service provides email or text reminders. Or check online for smart phone medication apps.
- Personal medical alert. Many home-based medical alert systems include an optional medication reminder service.
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