Summer is slowly coming upon us. Trips to the beach, lake and Grandma's house are surely in store.
It's the last of these that is of interest to me. If you're venturing to a parent's house this summer, it's the perfect time to talk with loved ones about how they are doing and where they may need some help. You might not know that you're a caregiver — nearby or long distance — but rest assured, if you have an aging parent, you are a caregiver.
Use this visit to monitor the cleanliness of the house — from areas that receive a lot of foot traffic to those that no one has looked at in several months. This is the perfect opportunity to use "cleaning up" to "open up" the conversation.
When you're cleaning the kitchen, don't just mop the floors and wipe down the cabinets. Clean out the fridge and, while you're doing that, also check for what kind of food Mom is keeping. You can learn whether or not she's eating a balanced, nutritional diet or keeping food longer than is safe.
Engage Mom and talk about what you're seeing in the fridge:
- "Mom, this beef stew looks really good; what recipe did you use?" Or,
- "This chicken has a lot of mold on it. How long has it been in here?"
You can follow up with other questions to find out if Mom is having difficulty seeing what's in the refrigerator, preparing meals, or even getting to the grocery store.
I don't know anybody who really likes cleaning bathrooms, but there are signs in this room that can be indicators of how well Mom or Dad is doing. As you're scrubbing the floor, notice whether the tile is nonskid or not. Did you know that over one-third of adults over the age of 65 fall each year in the United States? That floor you are cleaning could be the biggest safety hazard in their home.
The medicine cabinet is another source of important information. As you're straightening out the shelves, be sure to look at the expiration dates on the prescription bottles and any over-the-counter products. Also, match up the different types of medications to the current list that you keep of the drugs your mom takes.
Start by flipping the mattress and then tackle the floor. If your loved ones have area rugs, be sure to notice if they are frayed or if they slip around on the floor. This is the time to attach double-sided tape to keep them in place.
And as you're cleaning out the closet and dressers, you can also be checking on the condition of your parents' clothing. You might notice that there are dirty clothes. This might mean that it's getting harder for them to do the laundry.
- Could that be because the washer and dryer are in the basement? Or,
- Is your mom's arthritis maybe making it hard for her to load and unload clothes?
This is another opportunity for a conversation, and maybe even a chance to do some shopping with your mom for new clothes.
As you're carrying cleaning supplies up and down the stairs, you can be checking the condition of the staircase.
- Are there handrails and are they sturdy?
- How are the treads? Are they covered with carpeting that is old and slippery?
- How well-lit is the staircase, both at the top and the bottom?
If you see something, you can say to Mom, "I noticed that the old carpeting on the stairs is looking worn. Have you or Dad had any problems with your footing?"