Taking Care of Grandparents
As your grandparents age and need more assistance, caring for them can become increasingly challenging. While regular visits and helping with errands may be sufficient in the beginning, at some point your grandparents are likely to require considerable help with daily activities in addition to medical care. From employing a home health aide to helping them move to an assisted living facility or nursing home, here is how you can best provide support to your aging grandparents at every stage in their life.
Understanding the Stage in Life Where Your Grandparents Are
Caring for your grandparents can be an extremely rewarding experience. You will strengthen your family bonds and at the same time help them feel less isolated and lonely. The type of care your grandparent needs will vary depending on the stage in life they are in.
Stage 1: Your grandparent is independent but needs some help
Even when grandparents are capable of living on their own, they will appreciate companionship and a helping hand with daily household tasks. Here is what you can do for your grandparent at this stage:
- Help them with grocery shopping and meal preparation. Take your grandparent grocery shopping or do the shopping for them. You can also help them plan and prepare simple, healthy meals in advance.
- Help them with chores. Offer your grandparent to unload the dishwasher, sweep the floors, take out the trash, do the laundry, or fix something at home.
- Take care of any potentially hazardous areas in your grandparent’s home, like loose floorboards or uneven steps that could cause an accident.
- Help them declutter and organize their home. Many elderly people have a hard time decluttering, as items often hold special memories for them. Help your grandparent sort through those items, but make sure that the process doesn’t become too overwhelming.
- Accompany your grandparent to a doctor’s appointment. Take your grandparent to routine doctor’s visits or specialist check-ups. You’ll be showing them your love and support and, at the same time, stay informed about their health.
- Plan weekly outings with your grandparent. Whether it’s lunch, bingo at the senior center, or a walk in a park, these outings will give your grandparent something to look forward to.
- Visit your grandparent. One of the very best things you can do to help your aging grandparents is to visit them, especially if they are living alone. If visiting regularly isn’t an option, try to call them every few days. A phone call from the family is sure to brighten their day.
- Help them meet other seniors. Find a senior group in your area that your grandparent can join. There is a wide range of activities offered for the elderly through local libraries, community centers, and outreach programs.
Stage 2: Your grandparent can live at home but needs full-time help
At some point, your grandparent will require more help than you can provide on your own. If your grandparent is not ready to move away from home but requires assistance with daily activities, talk to them about getting a part-time caregiver. There are several different options you may want to consider:
Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) is a New York-specific Medicaid program that enables seniors to designate a family member as their caregiver. Statistics show that one out of 12 caregivers in the US is caring for a grandparent. Being a caregiver for your grandparent will allow you to form a closer relationship with them as well as with other family members, develop skills like patience, resourcefulness, and compassion, and get paid for taking care of your loved one.
Home Health Aide (HHA)
A home health aide can help your grandparent with activities of daily living, light housekeeping, meal preparation, and other tasks including companionship, monitoring their health, and administering medication.
It is essential to find a home health aide who is a great fit for your grandparent when it comes to skills and personality. The best place to start looking are certified home health agencies whose employees have undergone a rigorous background check, skills evaluation, and are trained in safety procedures.
Personal Care Assistant (PCA)
Personal care assistants serve as both helpers and companions. They can help with everything from bathing and dressing to light housekeeping, meal preparation, companionship, and neighborhood walks. They can also drive your grandparent to shopping and appointments as needed, and pick up their prescriptions from the pharmacy. However, personal care assistants are not licensed to provide nursing services.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
A certified nursing assistant will help your grandparent with activities of daily living and their healthcare needs under the supervision of a Registered Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse. Unlike personal care assistants whose focus is on ensuring the patient’s comfort, certified nursing assistants are licensed to perform medical tasks like administering medication, taking vital signs, setting up medical equipment, and assisting with medical procedures such as drawing blood.
Stage 3: Your grandparent can’t live alone and needs professional care
When your grandparent starts experiencing a decline in cognitive abilities or has a medical condition that requires professional care, it might be necessary to move them to a safer environment. This is when you may need to consider placing your grandparent in a senior living facility.
Before you choose an assisted living option, you should make sure to take into account the following factors:
- The level and type of care needed (non-medical vs. medical care)
- Cost and payment (monthly fees or upfront cost)
- Staff accreditation and training
- The size of the facility
- Activities, events, and classes available at the facility
- Amenities (swimming pool, community entertainment, a dining hall, a garden, a coffee shop, a library, or a computer room)
- Specialized programs for specific health conditions such as diabetes, heart health, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia
- Possibility of transition to a skilled nursing care facility if the need arises
- Location of the facility and proximity to family members.
It is important that you visit various facilities with your grandparent before making a decision. Ask about the amenities and activities they offer and make sure they can accommodate your grandparent's interests, hobbies, and transportation needs. Also, take note of how the staff interacts with the residents and ask to see the facility's compliance history with minimum standards.
There are several senior assisted living options to choose from, depending on your grandparent’s needs:
Adult Care Facility (ACF)
The state of New York offers three types of Adult Care Facilities: Adult Homes, Enriched Housing Programs, and Residences for Adults. They provide long-term, non-medical residential services to seniors who are unable to live independently due to physical or mental limitations associated with age or illness. Adult care facilities are not licensed to provide nursing and medical care, so your grandparent should not require continual medical or nursing services.
Residential Care Facility (RCF)
Residential Care Facilities are small group homes that provide supervision and care for the elderly who are not able to live on their own, but who do not require skilled nursing care. RCFs provide meals and assistance with basic daily tasks in addition to socializing and a variety of recreational activities.
Assisted Living Facility (ALF)
If your grandparent is still somewhat independent but requires daily oversight and assistance with personal care, housekeeping, and medication management, you may want to consider an assisted living facility. Assisted living facilities offer accommodation, shared meals, and social activities. Their staff is available to assist residents with care needs such as bathing, grooming, using the toilet, and eating.
In addition, these residences have medical staff either on-site or available on call. Some assisted living facilities are dedicated to or include separate units for people with Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive impairments.
Intermediate Care Facility (ICF)
Intermediate Care Facilities provide round-the-clock care for the elderly who are not able to live independently and who require help with daily tasks and nursing care under a physician’s supervision.
Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF)
Skilled Nursing Facilities, commonly known as nursing homes, provide nursing services 24 hours a day. They are designed to provide high levels of assistance to seniors who are not able to function independently and require continuous personal and medical care.
Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)
Continuing Care Retirement Communities offer different levels of service in one location, including independent housing, assisted living facility, and skilled nursing care. Seniors who can no longer live independently will either receive home care in their independent housing, move to the assisted living facility or, if necessary, to the CCRC nursing home.
What you can do to make the transition easier for your grandparent
After your grandparent moves to a senior living facility, there is a lot you can do to help them stay connected and feel less lonely in their new environment. Here are some ways to show them your love and support:
- Visit your grandparent regularly. You can enjoy intergenerational family activities like playing a game, sharing a meal, telling stories, or taking a walk together. Just make sure to call the facility in advance and check what is the best time of day for a visit.
- Send your grandparent letters. Whether you are wishing them a happy birthday, happy grandparents’ day, or simply letting them know that you miss them, a letter is sure to brighten your grandparent’s day. Although handwritten letters are more personal, a clear and large typed font may be easier for them to read.
- Send your grandparent photos. These can be simple snaps of your family’s everyday life, but you can also order a custom photo book, make a scrapbook, or send your grandparent a framed family photograph.
- Send them a small gift. A gift like a coffee mug, a pair of warm slippers, a box of chocolates or simply a bouquet of your grandparent’s favorite flowers will show them you are thinking about them.
- Schedule a weekly FaceTime call with your grandparent. Talk about memories or their favorite topics. Make sure to include your family in the call—your grandparent will be delighted to see their great-grandchildren too.
What to Do If Your Aging Grandparent Has No Money
If you don't have the means to hire someone to help with your grandparent’s care, they may qualify for financial assistance. There is a wide range of resources available for low-income seniors in New York, including health insurance, food, transportation, and emergency financial assistance:
- Medicare is the federal health insurance program that covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, and hospice care. It can also include home health care (Medicare Part A), doctor’s services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services (Medicare Part B), and prescription drug coverage (Medicare Part D).
- Medicaid is a combined federal and state program that offers medical benefits to eligible seniors. It covers a wide range of services such as physician consultations, inpatient and outpatient hospital care, home health care services, skilled nursing care, and more.
- State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs (SPAPs) assist low-income seniors in paying for their prescription drugs.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally funded assistance program that helps low-income individuals buy food. If you have an urgent need, you can apply for Expedited Food Stamps that will be available within a week.
- Expanded In-home Services for the Elderly (EISEP) is a program that provides non-medical in-home services such as personal care, adult day care, and transportation assistance. It is available to low-income seniors who live at home and need help with daily activities but do not qualify for Medicaid in NY.
- Veterans and their spouses, dependents, survivors, and family caregivers can take advantage of Veterans Benefits.