Caring for aging parents is a concern wherever you live in the world. It is particularly common in Asia and the Middle East for family homes to be shared with elderly extended family. This can provide care and companionship that can prove essential to their overall wellbeing as they grow older.
However, there may come a time when your elderly parent says they aren’t feeling well. While this may not immediately trigger alarm bells, for an elderly parent a seemingly minor complaint can actually turn out to be something more serious.
Symptoms can be subtle
As a younger and fitter person, you may dismiss symptoms your parent describes as nothing to worry about. Coughs or colds that you shake off easily with a few days of rest and some over the counter medication can prove more stubborn in elderly patients and, without the correct medication, could lead to a more serious infection.
Your family doctor will be able to advise you in this situation, but there are other more serious conditions such as heart attacks or strokes that can present without typical or obvious symptoms.
Dizziness, confusion, a fall, even heartburn symptoms and lethargy can all be indicative of a heart attack in an elderly parent. Common stroke symptoms include slurred speech or weakness in their arms, legs or face, but more subtle signs such as shortness of breath and tiredness can also suggest a stroke. If you suspect a heart attack or stroke it’s best to head straight to your nearest emergency department or call 999 (from within the UAE) immediately.
Caring for a parent from afar
Many families are separated by thousands of kilometers. In places with large expatriate community, such as the Middle East, parents may even be in different countries. This can make identifying and providing the emergency care required for your elderly parent even more challenging. These tips can help:
- Schedule regular video calls with your parent. As well as being a great way to stay in touch, any signs of confusion or disorientation should be obvious as you talk. Also look for any changes in their appearance – have they lost weight, do they have any visible marks, cuts or bruises, or do they look unusually disheveled?
- Ask your parent about their routine, get an update on their health, any visits to the doctor or any new medications they are on.
- When you are home, visit your parent’s doctor(s) to get an update on their health and take note of any medications they are on.
- Ask a neighbor to visit on a regular basis, and to be your point of contact in the case of an emergency. Ensure they are well-informed of your parent’s current and previous medical history so they assist doctors in the event of an emergency.
- Keep a list of telephone numbers for your parent’s doctors, local hospitals and other friends or neighbors you can contact in an emergency.
Preventing future visits to the emergency department
Few people enjoy visiting the emergency department and elderly patients are often the most resistant to going to hospital. However, there are steps you can take to reduce emergency room visits in the future:
- Falls are a primary cause of emergency room visits among the elderly. Installing safety and support items like rails, stair lifts, non-slip flooring in the home of the elderly can help to reduce their risk of falling.
- Arrange and attend regular checks up with your parent’s doctor(s). Routine check ups provide essential monitoring of your parent’s health and allow the doctors to make any necessary changes to their medication. They can also lead to an early diagnosis of a condition, potentially reducing its severity.