Tips for caregivers looking after an aging loved one

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center

Dr. Torres discusses tips to care for the elderly in the Medical Intel podcast.

It’s estimated that about 34.2 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult 50 years or older in a year’s time, according to a 2015 report from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.

One of the top concerns for caregivers is an elderly person falling, said Dr. Cesar Alberto Torres, a geriatric and house call doctor at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

“Falls can lead to very life altering fractures, specifically fractures of the hip and study after study has shown that a hip fracture will have significant effect on mortality rates. Your odds of dying the first year after a hip fracture unfortunately are quite high,” Dr. Torres said.

Decreased or impaired vision can contribute to the falling risk. Also, seniors can experience a loss of balance and muscle strength, causing them to not lift their feet as high to avoid simple obstacles in their path, Dr. Torres added.

Caregivers can help minimize a loved ones’ risk of falling by reducing clutter in the house and being mindful of potential hazards such as throw rugs or steps between floors, Dr. Torres said. Make sure rooms have good lighting, the patient is wearing his or her glasses and handrails are available around the house.

While they may seem like common sense things to do in a home, Dr. Torres said they often get overlooked. The MedStar Washington Hospital Center team does house calls and can assess how safe the environment is for a patient and make recommendations.

“Sometimes you need that person who comes into your home and is taking care of your mother and father to just point it out. And that little bit of added emphasis leads to a change,” he said, adding that the team can make referrals to other doctors that can help with things such as a senior’s sight and hearing.

For those caring for a loved one, open communication is key, Dr. Torres said.

“Don’t just assume they’re doing OK because they aren’t calling you for help,” he said. “A lot of times what we see is that the elder will do everything they can not to bother their family members and the more open the communication, the more likely you are to know there is a problem.”

Family members may want to check in on a senior’s ability to drive as well. That ability changes with age as reaction time diminishes, visual and hearing changes occur and osteoarthritis in the spine limits how much they can turn their head. It is wise to ride with them on occasion to ensure they are safe behind the wheel.

“Driving safety is something that really needs to be a top priority. Not just for the patient themselves, but for the society at large,” Dr. Torres said.

Part of that open line of communication is knowing what medications a senior in your care is taking. Some medications can make patients feel sleepy or dizzy, which can lead to falls or impair a patient’s ability to manage their household environment.

Caregivers should look at each of their pill bottles and bring all of the medications to appointments with a doctor, Dr. Torres said.

“The major problem with medication adherence is the difficulty with remembering complicated medication regimens. Medications that have to be taken three times a day generally are extremely difficult,” Dr. Torres said. “The more that the physician can simplify the regimen, the better the outcome will be.”

Using pill boxes or employing any form of reminder – such as a note or an app – can help a senior keep track of what medications they have to take and when.

For more insights from Dr. Torres, including his podcast on advice for adults taking care of elderly loved ones, click here.

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