How can I help my elderly father continue to live alone in a giant house?
December 27, 2009 4:20 PM   Subscribe

How can I help my elderly father continue to live alone in a giant house?

My father is in his late seventies, and it's a real chore for him to do things like shovel and rake leaves. I'm going to hire a service to handle plowing the driveway, and another to rake leaves and mow the lawn.

I noticed that his kitchen sink doesn't work while visiting for the Holidays. He said he called a plumber, but that it made more sense to wait until winer was past, but that's the same excuse he used last year! I'm going to hire a plumber to fix the sink, and I'll ask one of his friends to let me know when something's wrong with the house so I can get it fixed. What haven't I thought to do? What else should I be thinking about?

Anything resembling in-home care is probably not an option yet -- an acquaintance of his suggested getting a hearing aid, because his hearing has deteriorated to the point where he mishears pretty much everything, and he was angry about it for weeks, muttering about how he might as well give up and crawl into his grave is he's going to get a hearing aid.

I was talking with a friend of mine who went through the same thing with her grandmother, and she pointed out that I should get on waiting lists for assitsted living facilities and to make sure I get legal issues cleared up. Neither one of those things had occurred to me, so I'm probably missing a lot of other things, too.

Also, can anyone recommend a plumber, plowing service, a lawn service, and whatever else might be helpful in Madison, WI?
posted by suncoursing to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If he is a member of a church or organization (VFW, Elks, American Legion, &c) you may want to see if they have a drop-in program or a visitation program.

This can make all the difference - to have someone with whom he has something in common come by once a week to chit chat and check on him will feel less clinical and invasive.

You may also want to consider a cell phone with large numbers that has a dialtone for those used to a regular phone.
posted by Tchad at 4:29 PM on December 27, 2009

My guess is he could probably use a housekeeper - maybe include laundry, and leaving a hot dinner. If he doesn't drive, she could also run errands, especially grocery shopping. If you have relationship with the housekeeper, she can also let you know when there are problems in the home.

A will and health care power of attorney is (hopefully) reasonable if he doesn't have them. Financial stuff is probably to sensitive but maybe you can begin a conversation about how he wants things done when he is really old (not now) or if he gets sick and see if he is willing to have a lawyer make it official (so things will be done HIS way if he ever needs someone else to act for him.)
posted by metahawk at 4:33 PM on December 27, 2009

Based on family experience, you may want to help him put as many bills as possible on auto-pay, arguing for convenience etc. Some elderly people start having trouble keeping track of bills and sending out checks regularly.
posted by dreamyshade at 4:45 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

This weekend, my brother told me about one of his neighbors, an elderly guy, who had a stroke and spent the night on the bathroom floor, unable to get help. Fortunately, another neighbor has the habit of taking the elderly guy coffee each morning; that neighbor found the elderly guy and called for medical help.

Perhaps one of those "Help! I've fallen and can't get up!" buttons/systems would be a good idea.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 5:02 PM on December 27, 2009

We have been looking into this for my in-laws, and will probably use a "Seniors for Seniors"-type company to start, for the reasons that Tchad gave - it's less clinical and invasive, and we won't get into as many conflicts. They don't need medical care in-home, but they do need something on top of a cleaning service and our visits (we think bi-weekly cleaning service with weekly visits from either us or SfS will be okay for a bit). This will also be to help us to check in on them and to actually do all the little tidying things they were "just about to do", but get easily tired by. A quick google for similar services in Madison gives this:

I found a nearby vet student (someone who volunteered at a cat rescue, via their adoption set-up at the local Petsmart) to go in weekly and check their cats and do a good cleaning the litters and sometimes walk the dogs, on the basis that it's "work experience" for her. Preserving their pride is a huge part of it all. If he has pets, some senior orgs will help with this, or independent rescues often have people who will volunteer, as pets are great comfort for seniors and it's best to keep them in the home together as long as possible for both parties. This is what my in-laws did, and now they're in need, because they were the "young ones" who volunteered for their friends for the longest time.

The whole family just got together and did a big clean up, supposedly to find things for our daughter's school rummage sale, wherein we cleaned out all the closets and drawers and minimized the dusty tchotchkes to make it easier (okay, and faster and cheaper) for the sake of the cleaning service. We know now where they keep everything, so we can give better directions about where to find things and where to put things away. Their housekeeping had declined because they just plain can't see well, and can't reach or bend or do much for long. The main thing was to keep moving forward with whatever needed doing, acknowledging their protests that they can do whatever themselves with a positive response, but gently deflecting their "But I can..." with a smiling and nice "But I'm here, and I'll just do it now, it's easier for me to" and re-directing them toward what they can do.

I'll also be making them some Supperworks meals, since they're not ready for meals on wheels but can still can cook on their own (though grocery shopping is getting to be too strenuous). They like regular meals but don't want to do anything complicated or requiring much clean-up You might want to look up meal prep, meal assembly, dinner helpers or such.

This book was an interesting read for us:

Good luck, it's a trying stage for everyone involved, or so it seems from my experience.
posted by peagood at 5:21 PM on December 27, 2009

Another option is a home inspection or property maintenance business doing a monthly or quarterly inspection and arranging any repairs or preventative maintenance.
posted by saucysault at 6:11 PM on December 27, 2009

I think I know what your father is going through. My next birthday will be my 70th. It is very difficult for someone who has been self-sufficient, the leader of the family and independent to accept that he is slowing down. He especially doesn't want to hear it from his "child."

I don't know how close you live to him or what your relationship with your father is, but here are some things I would suggest. First, if possible, sit down with him and let him know that you care for him very much and you need his help to let you worry less about him. Enlist his aid in calming your fears about his personal well-being. See if you can get him to be a co-conspirator in the effort to make his life better. Suggest that you know that he doesn't need another pair of socks for his birthday or a tie for Father's Day. Tell him what you'd like to give him for each of the various gift-giving holidays is a visit from a plumber, a visit from a handyman or a visit from a housekeeper. You can arrange with these services just how often they check in on him, once you get him to accept their intrusion into his life. He may be more willing to let them in if he knows that he doesn't have to pay and that they have already been paid for their work.

See if he has friends in the neighborhood whom he respects. If they are his age, they can be good cheerleaders for your efforts. They can also be good "spies" for you in that they can look in on him and let you know if they see any problems cropping up.

Can he learn to use email? I am teaching my 68 year old next door neighbor to use email now that her husband has died. She is able to keep in touch with her daughters across the country and some old friends she would not otherwise be in contact with. If he can learn (keep it simple), you and he can check in with each other daily and agree that, if you don't hear from him on any given day, you have permission to call a friend to look in on him.

The important thing is for him to keep his dignity while you force your help upon him. Cajole him and help him to help you to help him.
posted by Old Geezer at 7:30 PM on December 27, 2009 [10 favorites]

Definitely get him help with the household chores. Maybe check into a daily visiting service? Does he qualify for Meals on Wheels? Most people find that it's not so much the food, but the daily company that makes the program a success!

If he's a veteran, there should be programs and options to help them remain independent yet cared for in his city. Also contact his utilities, and get him on Project Angel, or just let them know he's elderly and living alone, so they don't cut him off. Also, they might be able to tell stuff through power usage, dunno... but at least knowing he'll be warm and fed is good!

As far as medical/hearing aid, that IS hard. Hubby is not even 50 and needs one, but of course they're expensive. Perhaps just GET one, even one of those volume increasing cheap ones, and just leave it with him, let him try it on his own.

I like the idea of helping him get on line! Not only data and dating, and porn and such, but emails will also help you stay in touch with him.

Even a weekly maid service, that has explicit instructions to contact you if there are problems, would help him and help ease your mind that he isn't hanging out all alone.

I'm in a similar bind, father in law doesn't want a cel phone, and drives from Vegas to LA every other week, works 35 hrs, etc at age 75. We worry....
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 9:16 PM on December 27, 2009

With my grandmother, we hired a driving service (she HAD to get off the road b/c she was becoming very dangerous, but she's always been active in many different groups & it was depressing to think of her becoming a shut-in b/c no one was available to take her to every bridge club/bible study/historical society meeting/symphony/etc). We completely re-did her bathroom to make it more accessible -- walk-in shower with no tub but with a seat instead, handrails, wide enough for a wheelchair should she need one at some point, etc. We hired someone to come in & "clean" three days a week, but she also reads to my grandma & helps her make cookies & just keeps an eye on her as well. Someone checks in on her twice a day just to make sure everything's ok. We basically went through the house at one point & identified areas that could be problematic (rug in the dining room that could be a tripping hazard, two large back bedrooms that could be shut off so she doesn't have to pay for heating/cooling, etc). My dad & his sister were added to all of her bank accounts & credit cards, & together they make sure her bills are paid & that she doesn't get scammed by people looking for money. (She'd hired someone to do the yardwork years ago when my grandfather started to lose his mobility, but that's a good idea as well.)

We're lucky in that my grandparents were penny-pinchers & so she can afford a lot of these extra services, b/c I know stuff like this can add up really quickly (especially considering how long-lived my family tends to be -- my grandmother is in her mid-nineties at this point!), so I'm not sure how all this would work with more stringent budgetary constraints, but I do think that it's important to go through his home & identify things that could become problems later on or maybe habits he could change. I know, too, that it was a real struggle to get my grandma to give up her driver's license & I can totally sympathize -- it made her feel useless & old. Same with your dad & the hearing aid. It's a really difficult situation.

Good luck!
posted by oh really at 6:23 AM on December 28, 2009

There are lots of electronic services and gadgets that might help (in conjunction with human intervention, of course) in situations like this, especially with respect to saftey. Examples: (1) camera aimed at the driveway and front steps that you can access over the internet to see if plowing is needed etc; (2) motion detectors sprinkled around house so you can tell (again remotely over internet) if dad is moving around normally; (3) interior cameras to watch dad (if I were dad I wouldn't want that one either); (4) the famous red button attached to wrist that summons help; (5) cell phone always clipped to belt. Google around and you will find lots of remote home monitoring equipment and services, some general purposes (e.g., to keep and eye on the empty vacation house), some intended for elderly living situations.
posted by Kevin S at 7:28 AM on December 28, 2009

Lots of good suggestions here. My aunt has mild vascular dementia since a stroke a year and a half ago, but we've managed to keep her living independently, even though it seemed impossible to begin with. She shrieks with outrage at anything that might interfere with her "freedoms": unfortunately, this includes those I've fallen buttons: she won't have one. So. We do a lot and we've been lucky enough to find great people to do more.

We hired a friend to become her part time companion: she comes over three or four times a week, cooks and takes her grocery shopping and on general excursions (they're both thrift shop nuts, so they have a wonderful time scouring the local second hand stores.) Then we hired another friend to come in and clean once, sometimes twice a week. My brother goes over to her house at least three times a week just to hang out and I make it there once or twice, plus I take her out for coffee and to gallery openings and stuff like that. My daughter is in charge of her medications and she calls twice a day to remind her to take her pills, then goes over once a week and fills up her daily pill container. Another friend is on call as a handyman and sometimes he just drops by. The main thing was to make sure that she is watched without her realizing that we're watching her. Yes, it takes a lot of commitment from the family - we moved her here after the stroke so that this was even logistically possible - but it's not as difficult as all that and she's pretty happy now.

I heartily second talking at some length with your father about wills and living wills and all that stuff. You may end up seriously needing that medical power of attorney; I did. Fortunately, my mother was great about that kind of thing and had it set up way in advance of any need. It was actually a little unnerving, because she would launch into explaining exactly how she felt about being hooked up to machines (highly negative) and what we were supposed to do when she died - but then when she did pass away having all that knowledge was really helpful.

We had a lot of trouble getting my aunt to do any of this paperwork as well but we persevered and now it is all in order, which is comforting. An elder care attorney can help with explaining all the various documents and what you need, just in case, for example, there is a bad fall or stroke or other crisis. Introducing it as "for when you get really old" as suggested upthread is a good idea; I would also see if you can get your father talking about his own parents and what that was like. You could possibly introduce the subject with the time honored Mythical Friend: "I'm really worried about Mythical Friend, who is going through this terrible time with his mother;she would never discuss what she wanted and then she suddenly had a stroke/car accident/heart attack and now . . .worst case scenario." That might make your father sit up and take notice. Good luck!
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:38 AM on December 28, 2009

You said that you wanted to help your father stay at home, and in that case I second everything that has been said above (maid service/lawn care etc) however, maybe a move wouldn't be such a bad thing?

Just speaking from my own experience, we recently moved my Grandmother, who is in her early 80s, into a retirement community near our house. It was the best thing we could have done. Although she was capable of surviving on her own (though she did need a housekeeper) she was very depressed and lonely since she was extremely isolated. Most of her friends had died, her second husband had died, and she sat in her apartment alone all day everyday except when the maid came. She had moved to Florida to take care of HER aging mother about thirty years ago but no one else in the family lived within 800 miles.

She always swore up down and sideways that she would never move into one of "those places" and that she wanted to live on her own for the rest of her life. However, she changed her mind after a fall in the bathroom left her unable to get up for twelve hours (after being unable to reach her my father got worried and called a neighbor to go check on her). Things are leaps and bounds better now that she has moved. She has her own apartment that is smaller and more manageable for her-- it's not a nursing home/institution--, lots of new friends nearby, lots of activities to do (she's part of a bridge club and taking community college courses), and she feels safer knowing there are staff around to help if she needs it. It's a retirement community, but it has step-up care if she needs more help (medically or otherwise) in the future plus it is nearby and my family goes to hang out with her every weekend. Since moving her depression has lifted and she is now back to her active, bubbly, happy self.
posted by blue_bicycle at 10:22 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I should also note that a lot of the residents moved to this place in their mid-60s, well in advance of any "need" and everyone we met was extremely positive about their decision to move somewhere where they could "age in place" without worrying.
posted by blue_bicycle at 10:25 AM on December 28, 2009

I’m in a similar position although my mother is older, 88, and is being treated for dementia. She sometimes forgets her medication and is very irregular about eating. For two years I lived with her but often get a cousin and friends to cover for me. I have a family of my own. She lives in rural Indiana on a farm and does not want to move. I pay a company, Carelink, for a monitoring system which allows her to push a button worn around her neck and summon EMS. Over a year ago she fell, broke her pelvis, was on the floor and couldn’t move. She pushed the button and EMS came immediately. Friends from her church have been great about calling on a regular basis. As others I have mentioned, setting up autopay for bills is a must. If your father hasn’t done so already, you should locate a trusted lawyer who can set up a trust, living will, power of attorney, health directive so that when he really starts to decline, you can legally take over and make important decisions for him.
posted by jcbach at 5:16 AM on February 9, 2010

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