Things to consider may vary depending on your family member’s living situation. We will look at two situations – first, the family member is living independently in a home or apartment or retirement community and second, the family member is in assisted living or a skilled care facility.
If your family member lives independently, a visit can help you assess how well they are doing with their current living arrangements. One of the key issues weighing on your mind may be the safety of the independent living arrangement on a number of levels –
Is the interior of the house or apartment physically safe for your family member?
- Are any repairs needed to heat/air, plumbing, electrical systems?
- Is the lighting adequate for older eyes? Are there night lights in a few key locations?
- Are stairs well marked and do they all have sturdy handrails?
- Are there throw rugs which could be a slip and fall hazard?
- Is the tub and/or shower accessible and fitted with grab bars?
- Does the telephone have large enough numbers for your older relative to easily read without the aid of glasses or contact lenses?
- Is there clutter (furniture, books, magazines, etc.) that could be a fire hazard or result in possible injury?
- Are there working smoke alarms in the residence?
Are medications current, properly labeled and properly stored?
- Sometimes older family members will hang on to unused medications with the idea of using them at a later time if needed.
Is the exterior of the building safe and accessible?
- Are any steps in good condition, well marked and fitted with secure handrails? Would a ramp be a better choice for access to the building?
- Is the lighting around the entrances and elsewhere on the property adequate?
- Is the yard being adequately maintained? It doesn’t have to be the showcase of the neighborhood but it should be mowed and free of trash and clutter.
If you family member still drives, ride with them as you run errands, visit friends, go shopping, etc.
- Does their car seem to be in good mechanical condition?
- Pay attention to your relative’s driving skills. Do they appear to have enough alertness and flexibility to drive safely (particularly backing up and merging) and respond effectively to unexpected situations when driving?
Here are a few more things you may want to consider as you plan your visit:
- Be sure to plan some fun events – do things your relative will enjoy. This can be particularly important if there are also some sensitive or stressful issues you would like to spend time discussing.
- Even if you are staying at a hotel or with another family member spend as much time as possible at your older relative’s residence so you can get a good sense of how things are going with them.
- If you need to have some serious conversations during your visit find a place where you can talk without distractions or interruptions. It might also help to let them know in advance what you might want to discuss during the visit.
- If you might be spending time looking for community resources and services during your visit try to do some advance planning. Check with local organizations such as the Area Agency on Aging that might be able to help.
- If possible meet a few friends and neighbors and ask if it would be OK to call them if a concern arises once you are back home.
If you family member is in assisted living or a skilled nursing facility, there are a number of items you might want to check on during your visit.
- Is the facility clean and well maintained?
- Are the common areas comfortable and adequately lighted?
- Are residents encouraged to get out of their rooms and mingle or participate in games and other activities?
- If possible have a meal at the facility with your family member. Is the food nutritious and tasty? Are dietary restrictions taken into account in meal preparation?
- Does the staff to resident ratio seem adequate? Pay attention to how staff members interact with residents. Do they seem to be thoughtful, polite and caring?
- Visit at several different times a day to get a sense of the interactions and activities available throughout the day.
- Are residents clean and appropriately groomed and dressed for the time of year?
- If possible meet with the care team who interact most often with your family member. Is there consistency of staff for at least 4 or 5 days a week?
- Ask your family member what they like about the facility and also what they dislike
- If you encounter anything that causes you concern, raise the issue with the management of the facility.
Even with issues to be address, you can have a good vacation. The visit can be a welcome break for both you and your older family member. Just remember to look at things from their perspective in addition to your perspective and remember to plan to have some fun while you are with them.
By Betty Purkey, Family Caregiver Education Program of Area Agency on Aging
Sources: Includes materials and information from the Family Caregiver curriculum of the Area Agency on Aging and the Medicare website.