As Singapore’s population ages, the likelihood of each one of us having to taking on some or all of the responsibility of caring for and nursing an elderly relative increases. Unless your elderly relative has condition which requires hospitalization or specialized treatment, home care is often the most comfortable and comforting form of nursing which an elderly patient can receive. If you are currently faced with the possibility of having to care for an aging parent or relative at home, here are some of the considerations which you might want to plan for.
Develop a Care Plan
In order to assess the full extent of the preparations which caring for your relative will require, you should start by creating a care plan.
A care plan is a document which is a record of needs, actions and responsibilities, a way to manage risk and outline contingency plans so that patients, family members, caregivers and other health professionals know what to do on a daily basis and also in the event of a crisis. A good care plan should be created in consultation with your elderly patient, his or her doctor and your family members.
Understand and Document Their Medical Needs
Start by understanding the various medical conditions your elderly family member has. Older patients often face multiple chronic conditions and you will need to understand each of them and how they are likely to progress over time. Speak with your family doctor and make a list of medications which need to be taken on a daily basis, how they should be administered and take note of when and how often your relative will need to visit the doctor or the hospital for regular tests or procedures.
Nutritional and Physical Needs
Note down any special dietary restrictions and also physical care requirements. Will your patient need assistance to go to the washroom? Will simple functions like bathing, toileting, grooming, eating and mobility require assistance? If they do, is your home equipped to be wheelchair friendly and do you have the necessary modifications needed to make these tasks easier? Are you able to assist your relative with these needs or are will you be able to rely on home help?
Emotional and Psychological Support
If your relative has dementia or related mental or emotional conditions, are you equipped to help them? Patients with conditions like these may prefer a stable and set routine and environment. You may also need to ensure that they receive more specialized care for their conditions.
Quality of Life and Relationships
Growing older and losing some of their independence often makes older people feel insecure, vulnerable and depressed. Try to understand what you can do to continue to give them the ability to retain relationships and to grow their interests. Are there classes they can still attend? Would arranging a regular get together to play mah-jong or drink coffee with friends be something they would look forward to? Maybe a gentle walk each day in the gardens or an outdoor activity would help? Figure out how you can include them in regular family activities. The more positive your elderly relative’s outlook on life can be, the easier it will be to care for them and the higher their chances of ageing successfully in place will be.
Create a Contingency Plan
Speak with your relative, his or her doctor and also with family members and create a list of possible risks which might occur. Anything from your relative getting lost, to taking the wrong medication, falling and having difficulties getting up or a sudden deterioration in an existing condition should be considered.
Work out a step-by-step response plan for each of these situations and make sure they are documented in the care plan. Make sure that all caregivers and family members are familiar with what they should do and where they can find the response plans in the event of an emergency.
Assess How Able You are to Meet the Care Plan
Once you have created a care plan, you will have a much better idea of how prepared you are to care for your relative. Depending on the number and severity of your relative’s health conditions, you may or may not need additional help.
Consider Multiple Care Connections
In most cases, your relative’s needs will probably be met by a combination of different care programmes and connections. You and your family will likely be able to meet most relationship, nutritional and simple medical needs.
For patients with mobility issues or special conditions, you may need to engage home care help in the form of companionship, hygiene assistance, light housekeeping, errands and shopping and respite for family caregivers.
If your relative needs to have medication which can only be administered by a trained professional, or is likely to face conditions which require special vigilance and care, a professional home nurse may be able to fulfill some of these obligations at home instead of at the hospital.
Try to see if other family members can also become involved. Take turns to bring your relative out and to spend time with him or her. When more people share the responsibility, it makes it easier for each caregiver and it also makes life more interesting for your patient by allowing them to remain connected with more people.
Senior day care centres which offer a programme focusing on physiotherapy, community and other forms of therapy can also be helpful in slowing down some deteriorative conditions.
Article first appeared in Families for Life (www.familiesforlife.sg).
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