The Journey of Aging Well
with helpful tips for family caregivers
The return of better weather seems to naturally make us stir and think of changes. Perhaps you are thinking to do some remodeling in your loved one’s house. Or maybe it’s time to check on Mom if you’re a long-distance caregiver. And then there are the changes of aging. Some are normal, some problematic. This month we offer tips about common changes in eyesight and eye health.
Considering a remodel?
Do you want to ensure that Mom and Dad can live safely and comfortably in their home over the years to come? Many seniors want to “age in place.” Remodeling can remove safety hazards and prevent common accidents. It also can be less expensive than paying for assisted living. Plus, making the home “senior friendly” can add to the value of the building long term.
Discuss with your parent(s) the win-win of remodeling to improve the home for
- ease of getting around: single-floor living with an accessible full bath, stair-free entry, and doorways wide enough for a wheelchair.
- ease of use: lever handles for doors and faucets, wide light switches.
- safety: nonslip floors, bright lighting and motion sensors, grab bars, sturdy railings, and simple locks.
These features simply make life easier and safer. More and more they are considered standard (“universal design”) for homes serving people of all ages and abilities.
Here are some tips for finding a qualified contractor:
- Ask friends and professionals you trust for a referral.
- Look for a contractor specializing in “aging-in-place remodeling.” The National Association of Home Builders has a “CAPS” directory of certified aging-in-place specialists (CAPS). These specialists understand the unique needs of older adults.
- Get the license number of any contractor you are considering and look it up on the website of the state licensing board. Check that they have a current license and are bonded. You can also view complaints and lawsuits.
- Ask about experience. For example, how many years in business? Any past “aging-in-place” remodel projects completed?
- Request references. Call several of them! Ask if they were happy with the job. Was it completed on time and within budget? Would they use the person again?
- Get a written bid based on a review of plans. It is appropriate for a contractor to get paid to prepare an in-depth package such as this.
- Ask about written warranties.
Easing the disruption of travel
There is one thing for certain in the life of a long-distance family caregiver: You are going to travel. And often unexpectedly!
You can ease the disruption by acknowledging that you have this “second life,” the one when you are periodically away. By treating it as a given, you can put systems in place to make a sudden departure less stressful.
Your home responsibilities:
- If you live with others, have a household meeting to talk about what to do whenever you are called away. Write down who will take on your chores. Then, when you do get the call, everyone can shift to the agreed-upon “Plan B.”
- If you live by yourself, arrange with others ahead of time to step in for common chores, such as pet care, picking up the newspaper and mail, watering the yard.
Finances and work:
- Create a personal savings program for transportation expenses. Offset the financial stress of caregiving trips by putting aside a little money every month.
- Set bills to pay automatically online. Remove the need to worry about what has and hasn’t been paid!
- Save up your sick time, vacation time, or personal time off at work. Coworkers might even be willing to “donate” some of their paid time off to help.
- Arrange to continue some projects remotely. Perhaps you can bring a laptop, or phone in to join meetings.
Arrange a time for daily contact with those back home. Touching base by phone or email is beneficial for everyone. It maintains a thread of continuity to your “normal” life and helps everyone know they can count on time to discuss the day’s challenges.
Consider a care manager to serve as your local “eyes and ears.” He or she can help you decide if you need to leave urgently or if you can wait until a scheduled visit.Return to top
Changes in vision
Most people experience normal changes in vision starting at middle age. Focusing on close work, such as reading, becomes more difficult. Driving at night is challenging.
Some changes in vision, however, are signs of a more serious condition. The most common eye diseases of aging include cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. There are also vision problems associated with diabetes.
Signs of a serious problem include
- blank spot in the center of the eye (like a piece is missing)
- blurry or wavy vision
- double vision
- sensitivity to glare
- black spots that seem to float in front of the object being viewed
- loss of peripheral vision (side vision)
Early detection is the best way to catch and treat these conditions. If your loved one complains of any of these problems, make an appointment with an eye doctor for diagnosis. Medicare pays for diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases.
If your loved one learns that his or her eyesight is in jeopardy, expect an emotional response. Shock, grief, anger, and depression are all normal reactions. To help your relative,
- acknowledge his or her feelings. Show that you care. Let him or her know that you understand how scary this might be.
- treat the situation as a family problem. Assure your relative that he or she has your support. Together you will address what can be done medically. You will also work together to find solutions so your loved one can remain as independent as possible.
- ask your eye care provider for a referral to a “low vision specialist.” If the diagnosing eye doctor is not a low vision specialist, ask for referral. A directory can be found at http://www.afb.org/directory/profile/national-council-of-state-agencies-for-the-blind/12
- check out assistive devices. A low vision specialist can suggest simple tools that make daily life much easier. These range from self-threading needles to stand-alone magnifying devices.