Lifehacker for Older Parents
February 26, 2012 5:13 PM   Subscribe

My parents are getting older and I'm thinking of ways to help them out. Can you share some gadgets/lifehacks/changes in way of life that might have helped out your older parents?

I don't live with them anymore, in fact they live in another country. Oh, they're also retired. Examples of things I've already done:

1. Setting up Logmein on their computer, so whenever something goes wrong I can log in and help them.

2. Set up Skype to autologin so they can see us whenever we are on.

3. Set up email accounts and showed them how to use it.

4. Bought them a rice-cooker.

5. Got them Samsonite spinner luggage.

6. We bought them ebook readers, so we purchase and email them books.

It doesn't have to be technology related, or expensive. And it doesn't have to be a physical "thing" either; any sort of suggestions that might just make things a little easier for them as they grow older. For example, maybe they should start leaving the door open when they go to the bathroom, in case something happens to one of them while they're in there (they live alone).

Looking forward to your suggestions, thank you!
posted by althanis to Human Relations (18 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
You don't tell us how old, and the following may not be relevant depending on where they live, but I mention this.

One of the difficulties that older folks encounter is the deterioration of their ability to drive, vs. the need to remain independent. Many cities and towns offer public transportation, but to ask an 80-year-old to give up his car and start taking the bus is, er, a difficult task.

By all means, encourage them to start using public transportation early, so that it is not an unknown when they should start to rely on it as their primary way of getting around.
posted by yclipse at 5:22 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

My 80 y/o mother loves this little thing - My Life Digital Photo Keychain (Brookstone). We got if for her on a whim, and it has not left her side for a very long time.

What she likes about it is that as new digital pics are taken of grandchildren, she can update rather quickly. $15 USD
posted by lampshade at 5:31 PM on February 26, 2012

They are about 63, and live in a tropical (third world) country. Dad still drives, Mom drives sometimes, but isn't as comfortable. I don't mean to babysit.

They're both still able to walk around and get stuff done. Mom can't really walk around for more than an hour though; Dad can for about 2 hours.

Don't mean to babysit, just realized I should've added those details.
posted by althanis at 5:33 PM on February 26, 2012

A long armed dustpan and brush that stands on its own...and a DustBuster with a long handle.
posted by taff at 5:52 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Install grab bars in the bathroom. They probably don't need them yet, but they'll come in handy as your parents become less steady on their feet.
posted by barnone at 6:13 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Encourage them to exercise and possibly pay for a gym membership for them if that's available in their country. 63 can be either really old or really young, depending on their general well-being, and exercise will improve that. Balance, in particular, is a really important thing to have sorted out.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:35 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Electric can opener, house slippers with decent tread. I agree with Snarl, though - 63 can be the prime of life, depending on the person. Try to separate out what they might need at this stage from your possible discomfort at having aging parents in another country.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:53 PM on February 26, 2012

Opinions from someone EVEN OLDER than 63:

Grab bars in the bathroom -- definitely. And you should have them in your bathroom, too. Bathrooms are notoriously slippery places.

Driving, especially at night, gets harder as you get older. For everybody, because it's purely based on your eyes' ability to switch from light to dark quickly; it's a function that starts declining at birth. However, suggesting public transit is tricky; no matter how environmentally sound, it's almost always harder to use than your own car. The best solution I know is for you to set up an account with a taxi company (open-ended or a set amount every month). Then you can tell your folks that when the weather's bad, or they just don't feel like driving and parking, they can call a cab and it's paid for. It's a present, not a "taking care of you old folks."

Agreeing with Snarl, although suggesting exercise can be helpful or intrusive. But if they haven't tried yoga or tai chi -- and if classes are available where they are -- you might ask them if you could give them a series of classes. Gentle yoga classes are especially good for beginners, and both kinds of movement can improve balance tremendously. Tai chi especially has legions of elderly people who do it every day.

You seem to have done wonderfully so far -- a great job, in fact! Making access to technology easier is crucial to help them feel less old-and-out-of-it. You might expand that by sending them music you like that they may not be familiar with, suggestions for movies, books, even video games. For instance, I read extensively, but was so pleased when a nephew offered to loan me his copy of the first of the Hunger Games books. Not because of the quality, but because I felt good knowing what all the buzz is about.

I hope you're still thinking of ways to be so loving to you folks 25 years from now.
posted by kestralwing at 7:03 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

My parents are even older (~67), and while they've never been hardcore athletic folks, they're still hale. They got one of these for my now deceased grandma about ten years ago, though, and found it was so useful they bought two more for themselves.

Hang out with them and talk to them as much as possible. Go on a big trip together--not necessarily for them, but for you! This is the prime of your time together, I would imagine--all of you adults together. As much as growing up can suck, being an adult friend to your parents, should one be blessed with great parents as you seem to be, is a great joy of life. I am similarly lucky and l love egging them on to come out with me for whatever, whenever I get a chance. They've tried food they wouldn't otherwise (which my mom generally enjoys, but my dad doesn't) and gone places they wouldn't have (which pleases my dad but not my mom). And hell, sometimes they drag me out to things I wouldn't otherwise do. ...But good times are had by all, regardless.
posted by smirkette at 7:29 PM on February 26, 2012

Tai chi especially has legions of elderly people who do it every day.
I'm 68 and WISH i'd found Tai chi years ago. After doing it for a year it has made a tremendous difference in how I feel physically: arthritis gone, flexibility and balance much better, jiggered back now OK, hiking ability back.

It's important to find the *right* Tai chi teacher, though, some are weird; fourth time was the charm for me.
posted by anadem at 7:38 PM on February 26, 2012

63 is young! That said, both of them should have a little wallet card with them listing the meds they are on, including the dose and how often they take it. Also any drug allergies they have. I work in a hospital and it's astonishing how many people come into the emergency department without this information or with outdated info.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:08 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do they have a cleaning service already? That can help with hygiene issues and also takes what can be heavier physical work off their plates.

The Tai Chi suggestion is a great one. If they're not into that, maybe some dancing lessons? Both activities are great for maintaining balance and muscle strength.
posted by quince at 8:08 PM on February 26, 2012

I wanna give you a hug just for being nice enough to ask this question!
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 5:06 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

- a jar opener thingy
- magnets that go on my mom's necklaces and bracelets so she doesn't have to fumble with clasps
- a digital frame that we can update wirelessly using flickr
- lighter pots and pans for my mom to cook with
- regular visits
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:06 AM on February 27, 2012

Who handles the money/bill-paying situation? Gently start encouraging the other one to start learning/participating in the process.

Suggest that they start a filing system for their important paperwork that other members of the family can access/understand (if they don't do this already). In fact, maybe they can make copies of important paperwork and send them to you or some other trusted person?

In my mom's 55-and-over community, the accessible features of their houses include things like:

--lever-style doorknobs that can be pushed down (arthritic hands can't turn doorknobs as easily)
--emergency lights that blink on the outside of the house, that are controlled by a switch inside (neighbors are supposed to call emergency services if anyone's light is blinking)
--grab bars in the bathroom
--higher toilets
--walk-in showers
--wall-to-wall carpeting with flat thresholds (apparently tripping on the edge of a rug is a common way to fall)

Also, my mom loves her automatic can opener.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:21 AM on February 27, 2012

My mum LOVES her Wii Fit because it means she gets light to moderate exercise every day without having to leave the house, no matter what the weather.

My dad LOVES his massage chair. An indulgence, but seriously good for achey arthritic bodies.

Agree with magnet clasps for necklaces.

Streamlining the home so that passageways are clear, and layout allows for seamless and ease of movement without tripping/angling.

My MIL loves her hard anodised cookware - no more scrubbing and soaking for her tired arms.

Regular full medicals.

posted by shazzam! at 3:43 PM on February 27, 2012

althanis, don't take this the wrong way, but do they have wills and living wills? Have you talked to them about what kind of funerals they would like, whether they'd like to be cremated, that sort of thing? Believe me, I know this stuff is hard to talk about, but it's on my mind since my father recently died; it was important to him for us to know what he wanted and it helped to put his mind at ease. After he died, it was very helpful for us to be able to find his will easily. Getting a will done and talking about what you'd like to happen to your body after you die is really good for everybody.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 3:57 PM on February 27, 2012

WorkingMyWayHome, no offense taken at all! I actually have spoken to them about their wills. It was an interesting conversation, because they said "We figure you'd all know we'd want everything divided equally." Haha. After my encouragement they got a lawyer and did it all up.

Thank for the great responses everyone!
posted by althanis at 5:49 PM on February 27, 2012

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