Q: I’m traveling to visit my parents soon. I’ve heard they may need more help. Are there things I should look for to help gauge how they’re doing?
Answer: It is difficult to always know how well a loved one is doing when providing long-distance care-giving. However, long-distance care-giving is becoming increasingly prevalent. According to a study conducted by the National Alliance of Caregiving, in collaboration with AARP, 15% of the estimated 34 million Americans who provide care to older family members live an hour or more away from their relative.
For those relying on regular telephone conversations and reports from other closer-living relatives to gauge aging parents’ well-being, the in-person visit may be very revealing. Absence — even for a short period — often allows you to observe a situation through new eyes. Any of the following changes may indicate the need to take action to ensure your aging relatives’ safety and good health:
- Weight Loss
- — One of the most obvious signs of ill health, either physical or mental, is weight loss. The cause could be serious such as cancer, dementia, heart failure, or depression. If weight loss is evident, talk to your loved one about your concern and schedule a doctor’s visit to address the issue.
- — Pay close attention to the way your parent moves and, in particular, how they walk. A reluctance to walk or obvious pain during movement can be a sign of joint or muscle problems or more serious afflictions. And if unsteady on their feet, they may be at risk of falling, a serious problem that can cause severe injury or worse.
- Home Environment
- — Attention must also be paid to surroundings. Particularly look for things that seem out of place or out of character for your loved one. For instance, your parent may have always been a stickler for neatness, cooking their own meals and paying bills promptly. If you discover excess or unsafe clutter that has piled up, scorched cookware, or an overflowing hamper, a problem may exist.
- — Check prescriptions and medication bottles for expiration dates. Make note of all prescriptions your family member takes and place that information in your personal files as well as their wallet in case of an emergency.
Q: I’m caring for my mom who has advanced memory loss and came across the Duke Alzheimer’s Family Support Program. Can they help me in Winston-Salem?
Answer: The Duke Family Support Program (DFSP) has been answering questions about dementia and care-giving since 1980. The program offers telephone and email consultation, and educational services to North Carolina families, friends and professionals caring for any adult with declines in memory and thinking. Though based in Durham, the program’s social workers can connect Winston-Salem area families to services and support in and around Forsyth County. DFSP also provides access to Project C.A.R.E. (Caregiver Alternatives to Running on Empty), a respite and consultation service for families caring for relatives with dementia in the home.
Additionally, twice a year the DFSP publishes The Caregiver newsletter, along with a monthly e-newsletter that provides timely events and tips for caregivers.
The program also offers (free of charge — by phone, email or mail) to all N.C. residents:
- Help with care decisions and coping strategies.
- Personalized tips on caring for people with memory disorders.
- Research updates and options for participation in Alzheimer’s treatment and prevention studies.
- Help selecting support groups, education programs, online help or books.
- A comprehensive information packet on Alzheimer’s and caregiving.
Caring for someone with a memory disorder can be physically, emotionally, and financially exhausting. Educating yourself about the disease and available services can change your perspective. For more information or to connect with the Duke Family Support Program, call 919-660-7510 or go to www.dukefamilysupport.org.
Q: Can you tell me if there are any support groups for people with Parkinson’s disease or their caregivers/family members in our area?
Answer: Parkinson’s Forward is a support group that meets on the fourth Monday of each month from 1-3:00 p.m. at the Senior Services building on Shorefair Drive. The next meeting is Monday, Aug. 22. The group has no dues and is open to any person living with Parkinson’s, caregivers, family members, friends, or anyone who is interested in learning more about the condition.
Often times, speakers from the local medical community attend the meetings to answer questions or give updates on research into causes, treatments, and therapies for Parkinson’s patients, as well as info on diet, exercise, home modifications, or other ways to help patients and families live better with the condition.
In addition to information and support, the group hosts social events such as the Memorial Day picnic and a holiday potluck dinner in November. Some members and families also meet informally for dinner at a local restaurant one evening each month to enjoy each others’ company.