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Five ways to ensure the people you love are safe and healthy 

At least once a year, every caregiver should engage the older people they love in what can be difficult conversations. No child looks forward to being a parent to her mom or dad; no one wants to have to speak with a spouse about exercising more, rethinking a medication regimen or considering stopping driving.  But, that’s often what needs to happen. Here are five ways you can help ensure the people you love are safe and healthy.

  1. Make sure they get an annual flu shot.  This should be easy since often the local pharmacy will administer the shot.  The shot minimizes the risk that older adults will develop flu-related health problems, including pneumonia and worsening chronic conditions.
  1. Check out what drugs they are taking.  And, make a list of them, along with the names and phone numbers of their doctors, both for yourself and for their wallets.  If they keep the list on them, and you have a backup copy, it will help ensure their doctors are best prepared to treat them.
  1. Ask them about painkiller prescriptions they take as well as over the counter drugs, like Tylenol.  Too much acetaminophen can be dangerous. Prescription painkillers, such as Percocet or Vicodin, can be even more dangerous, particularly if mixed with alcohol, tranquilizers or other drugs.
  1. Try to nudge them to exercise. A brisk walk can reduce the likelihood of stroke and help prolong their lives. If they are not inclined to move, ask them what might get them out of the house.  Sometimes, a companion can make all the difference.  Anything they can do to move their bodies is great, including in hospital. Sometimes, showing them some easy exercises can work.  You can find simple balance exercises that the National Institutes on Health recommends here. For information about free and low-cost exercise programs in your community, visit the eldercare locator.
  1. Talk to them about driving if they are still driving. Many people can drive all their lives.  But, both mental and physical reflexes can weaken as you age.  The National Institute on Aging offers great advice on when and how you can help someone you love decide to stop driving.

And, if you need help motivating them to change an unhealthy behavior, here are six tips that could help.

Of course, there’s more you can do, including making their homes easier and safer to live in: for example, make sure floor surfaces are smooth to reduce the likelihood of tripping, install ramps and  raise toilet seats. More on that in a separate post.

(This post was originally published on April 10, 2015.)

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