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Caring For Elderly Parents

A growing number of Americans face a difficult role reversal in adulthood, as the parents who once took care of them begin to need care themselves. This can be an even greater challenge for those whose parents live far away.

In an interview for CBS News This Morning, Connie Rosenberg, a certified nurse and manager with the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, says there are important clues to look for that may indicate your elderly parent needs assistance. Look for things such as an empty refrigerator, an unkept house, loss of weight, confusion about when medicines should be taken or about appointments with doctors, and bills that go unpaid.

"You want to be prepared," Rosenberg says. "I think that's one of the key points here, be prepared for problems, not to be caught off guard, not to be looking for people in a crisis."

Rosenberg suggests the following four steps adult children can take to begin the process of helping their parents:

  • Know who to call in an emergency.

    Keep a list of the names and numbers of friends and neighbors of your parents to call if there is an emergency. A list of numbers for repair services, such as plumbers or electricians, is also a good idea. Rosenberg suggests keeping a copy of your parents' local phone book at your home so that you can find what they need faster.

  • Meet with local elder care professionals.

    You can call the local agency for aging or get in touch with national organizations that offer local contacts. Even if your parents do not require assistance now, it's a good idea to introduce yourself to these people and develop some kind of relationship.

    Before hiring any elder care worker, find out about their educational background and certification. Also ask about their availability on nights, weekends, or for last-minute emergencies.

  • Make the home as safe as possible.

    As people age, their mobility and dexterity may decrease. Rosenberg suggests making the necessary changes to create a safer environment for elder parents.

    A few basic steps include taking away slippery throw rugs, putting in grab bars in the bathroom, making sure railings along steps are secure, and making sure the lighting inside and outside the house are bright. You may also want to provide your parents with an emergency response system so that they can get help immediately when they need it.

  • Develop a backup plan for paying bills.

    Many utility companies will ask seniors whether they want to list a third party to be notified if bills aren't paid. Find out if that's an option, and if it is add your name to the list. You can also arrange to have bills sent to you directly, or hire a bill-paying agency or a trust officer for the task.

One of the mistakes adult children make, Rosenberg says, is to assume that parents want to stay in their home. That may not be true.

There are many more options or senior living now than in the past. These include assisted living communities and retirement communities that offer various levels of help and independence. Adult children should discuss these options with their parents and find out if they are interested.

Sometimes it is clear that a parent's health is deteriorating and that a change is necessary. An older parent may actually want someone else to make the suggestion, Rosenberg says. She suggests letting them know they can move closer without having to go to a nursing home or move in with a child.

The senior years are often accompanied by a tremendous feeling of isolation, as people lose older friends who were part of their support system, Rosenberg says. This feeling can be debilitating, and can be another reason to consider a move closer to family.

If you need help finding care for your parents, you can call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116. The Federal Administration on Aging provides the service, which will put you in touch with resources in your community or your parents'.

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