The University Record, July 9, 1996

Visiting home for the summer? Watch for signs in elderly parents

Gloria Gibson (left) and her mother, Grace, used the Family Care Resources Program to find information and programs that would benefit Grace's heath.


By Jared Blank

Gloria Gibson was working on her Ph.D. in sociology in 1992 when her mother, Grace, was involved in a severe automobile accident in Maryland. In addition to the injuries suffered during the accident, Grace was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Gibson juggled her academic endeavors with caring for her mother long-distance, a task she found overwhelming. She found help through the University's Family Care Resources Program (FCRP), a free service that can help members of the University community find services, programs and community resources designed to assist families caring for elderly or disabled relatives.

"The program saved my life," Gibson says. "I was trying to help my mother long distance and Leslie [FCRP program coordinator Leslie de Pietro] showed me how to handle long-distance caregiving. I brought my mom here in 1994 and, through the program, I was connected with Meals on Wheels, day care programs for my mother and support groups. I finished my dissertation in 1995---I don't think I would've been able to do it without the help I received."

Adults visiting their parents during the summer sometimes discover that their parents are not in the physical or mental health that they were expecting. Perhaps they find that their parents aren't eating well or become disoriented easily when they leave the house. The worst reaction is to jump to conclusions, de Pietro says.

"It may not be necessary to remove a parent from the home. You should approach your parent in a way that doesn't put the parent on the defensive. Sit and talk about your parent's needs and goals for the next few years and how you can help to achieve that goal. Enlist their thoughts before you come to what you think is a perfect solution. Also make sure that they have been evaluated by a physician, preferably one who specializes in geriatric medicine."

De Pietro advises that you frame the discussion in terms of, "I'm concerned about you and I want to help you," rather than "Here's what I'm going to do."

"You and your parents may have an ongoing discussion," she says. "Your parent may not come to the same conclusions as you. You may have to sit back and work toward a conclusion. Be a good listener as well as a good talker. Listen to the feelings that your parent is trying to express."

There are warning signs to look for during a visit home:

Confusion. Is your parent repeating things often or repeatedly asking the same question or seeming to be disoriented?

Do you have concerns about the safety of your parent or your parent's home?

Is your parent eating regularly and eating well? Is there fresh food in the house? Can your parent cook easily?

Is your parent having trouble with routine bathing, dressing and grooming?

The FCRP provides free services on a wide range of topics concerning the care of elderly parents. For information about these services, call 998-6133 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.


Finding help for aging relatives:

The Family Care Resources Program provides many services to help adults care for their parents, whether they live close by or out of the area:

Assistance in setting up home health care.

Help finding suitable living arrangements, from retirement communities to nursing homes

Advice on locating specialists in financial planning and elderlaw.

Referrals to geriatric clinics and certified geriatric physicians.

Assistance finding a variety of support groups.

Help with locating case management and evaluation services in the home.

Assistance locating adult day care centers.

Workshops on a variety of eldercare topics.