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?"
Research shows that more natural light is better for everyone, especially for people with aging eyes. So clean both the inside and outside of the windows, and examine the window treatments to ensure that they are not blocking sunlight. Also, don't forget the final step in cleaning the windows: Be sure to raise the storms and lower the screens so that your parents can have fresh air throughout the spring, summer and fall when the weather permits.
This is the perfect time to update the lightbulbs throughout the house. Consider using compact fluorescent bulbs. They've been proven to be an effective investment that can save money and increase brightness.
Hallways and Entrances
If your mom's house is anything like my mother's, it's been collecting "stuff" over the winter and might not have been paid attention to during her spring cleaning, so help her clean up the dust and clear out the clutter. In high traffic areas like halls and doorways, it's easy to accumulate piles of things. So, tidying up improves both appearance and safety. Clutter can result in falls, and most fractures among older adults are caused by falls. Even more important, many people who fall develop a fear of falling that can cause them to limit their daily activity. Cleaning these small areas of the house can have a big payoff.
If your loved one's home doesn't have smoke detectors, this is a great time to install them. If the home already has them, check the batteries and make sure the detectors are functioning properly. Other security devices such as fire extinguishers or carbon monoxide monitors should be checked as well. Finally, this is a good time to make sure both you and a trusted neighbor have keys to your mom's house so that someone can get in should the need arise.
When you're outside cleaning the windows, check to make sure shrubs or trees are not limiting the natural light. A quick bit of pruning can make a world of difference inside the home. Also, make sure that any hard landscaping — such the front walk, any steps, or the deck, porch or patio — is in good condition and doesn't present a trip hazard. And be sure to check that all outside lights are bright and in good condition.
A Job Well Done
When you're done with these chores, your loved one's house is ready for all the fun times with the grandkids. If you've:
- opened up a conversation along with "opening the windows";
- cleaned out the closets and straightened out your Mom's meds;
- noticed some areas of concern around the house and given some suggestions to help your mom and dad.
Then you, the house and your parents are ready for summer. Enjoy!
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