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Your elderly parent fell? This could change everything

Donald Felter President of Senior Housing at Unity Health System

It’s sometimes difficult for adult children to watch elderly parents decline in health and ability. When seniors suffer falls or other physical or mental setbacks, there is seldom a clear-cut path to what should happen next. However, with the right knowledge and attitude, adult children can help elderly parents seek the right help, recover from tough times and adjust to the right level of independence.



Do take the time to find out what happened

Talk calmly with your parent about what they remember from the incident and what led up to it. What you learn can reveal a lot about their health and how quickly it may or may not be changing. You now are forming the basis of helping them make decisions about their future living situation.

Do reflect on their full health history

If this is a parent’s first fall, they could recover and have many years of healthy and active living ahead. If it’s number three or four, they may be in a pattern of declining health, and that requires much more consideration for what comes next. For the best, objective advice on senior living facilities, consider contacting a nonprofit organization that can objectively assess the situation and make recommendations. These services often are free, and their recommendations can range from a selection of home-care services, to assisted living or other residential accommodations.

Do consider their living situation - temporary and long-term

If the senior’s injury prevents them from using stairs, they won’t be able to get to a basement laundry area or an upstairs bedroom. That’s a pretty sudden and severe loss of independence. The solution may be to install a stair lift, or to downsize to a patio home - which are typically just one story - or a retirement community. Also, there are respite-care facilities in nearly every community where people can recover from injury or illness until they can return to their homes or another appropriate living arrangement.

Do talk with their doctor

Doctors welcome information from family members when it helps their treatment of patients. In some cases, stubborn seniors trust only their doctors, and are less likely to take advice and counsel from family members or friends. That’s even more reason to get to know their doctor and keep his or her phone number handy.


Do not scold or overreact

Even though you feel as if your elderly parent doesn’t always listen or was being stubborn, you must accept that the situation happened and move on to finding a constructive solution. You don’t need to remind them they did something wrong. It will only serve to aggravate the situation and your relationship.

Do not jump into the first option

Consider all the options that are available for your loved ones. If your parent is in rehabilitation or in respite care, that will give you some time to do the proper research and work through your findings with them. If your parent is in the hospital and will be released soon, you can consider a number of temporary living situations before they commit to something more permanent.

Do not assume you know what your parents want

Just because the tables have turned, and as an adult child you now are caring for your parents in some of the same ways they cared for you as a child, you shouldn’t assume that you know what they want or what’s best for them. Through conversation, work with your parents to make sure everyone is working from the same pool of knowledge. Talk through your thoughts and feelings about any changes that you recommend, and above all, be patient if they forget some of the many details that you and others present.

Do not lose sight of the objective

In the chaos and emotions that sometimes crop up in times of family change, it’s often easy to get caught up in sideshow issues that really have no bearing on the primary issue. When an elderly parent is in the hospital or is moving, it’s not the time to start claiming pieces of their fine china or combing through their bank records. Maintaining your own respect as well as theirs is always the right way to conduct things. Your objective should be to maintain or improve your elderly parents’ quality of life and if you can do that the outcome always is the right one.

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There are rarely any easy answers when circumstances for seniors change quickly due to illness or injury. The best approach for adult children is to gather as much information as possible, turn to trusted sources for guidance, and above all, be patient with senior parents as you navigate your options together.

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Donald FelterPresident of Senior Housing at Unity Health System

As president of Senior Housing at Unity Health System in Rochester, N.Y., Don Felter oversees The Villages, Unity's independent and enriched retirement communities, as well as Unity's subsidized and affordable housing communities: Park Ridge Com...

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