If your parents are getting a little older, you might be thinking about checking in on them more often. If they live in a different state, this task isn’t as easy, but it’s certainly not impossible. With today’s technology, distance is less of a hindrance when it comes to making sure your parents are doing ok. There are multiple ways to keep in touch, coordinate care tasks among family members, and even check in on a parent’s health from afar!
Why It’s So Important To Check In on Your Aging Parents
There comes a time in our lives when we realize that our parents, the people who raised us, guided us, and always took care of us, might need our help for a change. When your parents start to get older, you might wonder if they need a little extra help, or even someone to care for them. It’s completely normal to worry, but worrying does nothing for us, or for our parents. Back up your concerns with action – try to check in on your aging parents regularly.
The Dangers of Isolation in Older Adults
One reason it’s so important to check in on an aging parent – especially if they live alone – is that social isolation is very common in older adults, and can be dangerous to both physical and mental health. Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for several physical and mental conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease.
A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) found that:
- Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
- Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia.
- Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
- Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
- Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.
The same report found that nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Older adults are at an increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to have experiences like living alone, losing friends or family, or having a chronic illness.
The Dangers of Living Alone for Older Adults
Besides social isolation, living alone poses other dangers for older adults. These potential hazards include:
Falls and Other Accidents – As we age, our muscles weaken, our bones become more brittle, and our eyesight and hearing can get worse. It’s no wonder that older people are at a higher risk for household accidents.
- About 36 million falls are reported among older adults each year—resulting in more than 32,000 deaths.
- Each year, about 3 million older adults are treated in emergency departments for a fall injury.
- One out of every five falls causes an injury, such as broken bones or a head injury.
- Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
- Women fall more often than men and account for three-quarters of all hip fractures.
However, the chances of falls and accidents can be minimized by removing trip hazards from the home, and installing handrails and grab bars, and also by staying active, especially by participating in activities that strengthen the legs and improve balance, like Tai Chi.
Illness – A senior living alone may not realize that their illness is more serious than it seems, or they may not notice the signs that another set of eyes could notice. This is especially true in the case of dementia or other types of cognitive decline. Dementia isn’t something that is typically noticed by the person experiencing it, so someone living alone who’s developed dementia could be at risk for many potential dangers.
Financial Strain – Older adults are more likely to experience financial strain, often due to limited income, debt, and higher healthcare costs. Seniors are also unfortunately often targets of financial scams. Your parent may be tricked into giving out financial information, sending money to someone, or buying a faulty product.
Financial strain is a major cause of stress in seniors – about one-third of older adults report experiencing financial strain, defined as difficulty making ends meet, and 60% experience a financial shock each year, such as a large unanticipated expense or loss of income. Between 5% and 7% of all older adults in the US report severe financial strain, defined as substantial difficulty meeting monthly needs. Severe financial strain is associated with a lower medication adherence, which can negatively affect seniors’ abilities to recover from illness, as well as their overall health.
What To Look for When Visiting Aging Parents Over the Holidays
A lot of us are visiting our parents or other aging loved ones over the upcoming holidays. If you’re able to visit then, it’s the perfect opportunity to make sure that they’re doing ok and that their home is safe and secure. When you’re visiting your parents this holiday season and want to make sure they’re doing ok, here are a few things to look for:
- Weight Loss or Gain – Extreme or sudden weight changes could indicate that your parent is sick, hasn’t been eating properly, or is experiencing depression or other health concerns.
- Changes in Mood or Behavior – Changes in mood or behavior could mean that your parent is experiencing a physical or mental health condition or cognitive decline.
- Physical Infirmity – It’s normal for us to slow down as we age, but if your parent seems to have a lot of trouble walking or climbing stairs or seems unbalanced, it could be a sign that they need someone to help them with their day-to-day activities.
- Changes in the Home – Does your parent’s home seem messier than usual? Are dishes and laundry piling up? If your parent has always kept a clean home, then this is reason for concern. A messier environment can indicate a lessened ability to care for the home.
- Expired Food – If you find food in the refrigerator that’s been expired for a while, it could mean that your parent has forgotten about it, which might suggest cognitive decline.
- Unpaid Bills – If you find unpaid bills around the house, it could mean that either your parent is unable to pay the bills, signaling financial strain, or that they have forgotten about them, a possible indicator of cognitive decline.
And if you’re not able to visit anytime soon, don’t worry! You can use technology to check in on your parents and even potentially get a glimpse into what their living situation is like. These 5 apps can help you to stay in touch with and check in on your aging parents.
Technology You Can Use To Check In on Your Parents From a Distance
1. Caring Village
Caring Village allows family members and friends to work together, even from afar, to manage care for an aging loved one. Caring Village lives up to the adage “It takes a village” by allowing you to add people to your own personal ‘village’ of caretakers with shared responsibilities. Caregivers can communicate with each other directly through Caring Village’s integrated chat feature, and can coordinate and collaborate on care tasks. You can invite family members and friends, and even your parent’s professional caregiver to join your village, via their name and email address, no matter where they live. You can use the calendar to keep up with medical appointments and other events, and to coordinate schedules with other caregivers. Caring Village also includes a wellness journal for tracking your parent’s well being, and shareable to-do lists.
GoodRX is a free app that allows users to look up and compare prescription prices and find discounts on prescriptions. Over 70,000 U.S. pharmacies accept GoodRX digital coupons and using GoodRX can save you up to $100 on the cost of a prescription. The app is free to download, but you also have the option of purchasing a Gold membership, which can give you an even greater discount on prescriptions. Gold memberships are $5.99/month for individuals, and $9.99/month for up to six family members, including pets.
MediSafe is a medication management app that allows you to create and manage a list of medications being taken. You simply add the name, dosage, time of day to be taken, and the frequency of dosages for each medication. You can also add an image that reflects what the medication looks like, to avoid taking the wrong medication by mistake. All standard FDA-approved medications, as well as many over-the-counter medications come pre-loaded in the app. Your ‘virtual pillbox’ will help you or your parent to manage medications, and you can also automatically import your medications from major pharmacies and most hospitals. By adding yourself as a ‘Medfriend’ on your parent’s friend list on the app, you will be alerted if they miss a dose. The app also gives you useful information about medications, including their interactions and potential side effects.
The eCare21 app allows you to monitor your parent’s health 24/7, in real time. Heart rate, physical activity, weight, calorie intake, medication adherence, sleep, glucose and more can be monitored via a wearable device, like a FitBit or Apple Watch. The information can be just for you and other family members or, depending on the provider, can be made available to your parent’s doctors. The eCare21 app helps caretakers and providers create and improve care plans and can make medical visits faster and easier, by remotely accessing patients’ health information, and therefore eliminating the need for taking pre-visit vitals in-office. You can also track your parent’s location. The app is free to download, but there is a monthly subscription fee of $14.99. Committing to a longer time period will reduce the monthly cost.
5. Words with Friends 2
Not all apps used for remote caregiving have to be about physical health! You can use social games like Words with Friends 2 to check in with your parent without seeming like you’re just checking in. It’s a great way to stay connected with loved ones, and playing games with others can help to alleviate loneliness, reduce feelings of isolation and keep brain function strong in older adults.
These apps can help you to keep in touch with your parents as they’re getting older, and make sure they’re staying safe, healthy, and happy. You can also keep the whole family connected and engaged by keeping in touch with one another, and by sharing updates and caregiving responsibilities.
Worried About Your Aging Parents?
It’s normal to worry about your parents getting older, and it’s frustrating when you can’t be there with them! If you think that your parent may need a little extra help in their day-to-day life, assisted living might be the right choice.
Do you have a parent living alone in Texas – or do you live in Texas and think about moving them closer to you? Eagle Flats Village, in the historical North Texas town of Vernon, is an assisted living community that focuses on providing just the right balance of assistance and independence. Our residents have the privacy of their own apartment and the support of daily assistance and 24/7 care when needed. Our community is a vibrant one, with plenty of social and recreational opportunities, restaurant-style, nutritionally-conscious meals, local transportation, and more.
Are you ready to see for yourself what Eagle Flats Village has to offer?