When your loved one is in Chapel Hill – Durham area and you are not.

April 22, 2013

“How will I know if help is needed?  Uncle Simon sounds fine on the phone.  How can I know that he really is?   I can’t get back to Chapel Hill – Durham as often as I want.”

 Sometimes, your relative will ask for help.  Or, the sudden start of a severe illness will make it clear that assistance is needed.  But, when you live far away, some detective work might be in order to uncover possible signs that support or help is needed.  A phone call is not always the best way to tell whether or not an older person needs help handling daily activities.

Uncle Simon might not want to worry his nephew, Brad, who lives a few hours away, or he might not want to admit that he’s often too tired to cook an entire meal. But how can Brad know this? If he calls at dinner and asks “what’s cooking,” Brad might get a sense that dinner is a bowl of cereal. If so, he might want to talk with his uncle and offer some help.  With Simon’s okay, Brad might contact people who see his uncle regularly—neighbors, friends, doctors, or local relatives, for example—and ask them to call Brad if they have concerns about Simon.  Brad might also ask if he could check in with them periodically. When Brad spends a weekend with his uncle, he should look around for possible trouble areas—it’s easier to disguise problems during a short phone call than during a longer visit.

Brad can make the most of his visit if he takes some time in advance to develop a list of possible problem areas he wants to check out while visiting his uncle. That’s a good idea for anyone in this type of situation. Of course, it may not be possible to do everything in one trip—but make sure that any potentially dangerous situations are taken care of as soon as possible. If you can’t correct everything on your list, see if you can arrange for someone else to finish up.

In addition to safety issues and the overall condition of the house, try to determine the older person’s mood and general health status. Sometimes people confuse depression in older people with normal aging. A depressed older person might brighten up for a phone call or short visit, but it’s harder to hide serious mood problems during an extended visit.

Acorn wishes to acknowledge the National Institute on Aging for this valuable content.

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