10 Things to Consider Before Leaving Your Loved One Home Alone
At DTN Home Care, we often get questions like “Is our loved one safe at home alone?” and “How much care does he or she need 24/7?” The answer can be different for every caregiver and person being cared for, so we encourage you to schedule a consultation with us or with a personal physician before making this important decision.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to be with the person we are a caring for and care about 24/7. Whether you need to run errands, look after your own family, go to work, or take a break, sometimes you need to be away from the person you are caring for. Many caregivers feel guilty that they have to leave sometimes, but it is usually unavoidable.
My 96-year-old father lives in an assisted living facility that provides a high level of care. He also has home care come in three days a week to help him shower and shave, and diabetic care twice a day. And yet, he is “alone” in his apartment for several hours during the day and most of the night. The facility provides an alert button that can also sense when he falls, and yet we would love to be able to prevent falls and be able to watch over him 24/7.
My friend lives with two parents over 90 and is their primary caregiver. One has dementia and the other is physically unable to do safely everything she needs to do for both of them. They have neighbors and other family members they can call in an emergency, and yet my friend feels guilty about having to leave her parents alone to go to work five days a week. My friend and I are required to constantly reassess our parents’ needs and increase their levels of care.
Until you can meet with a professional to discuss the level of care your loved one needs, here are some things to consider before leaving alone the person who is in your care.
Ask yourself these 10 questions
A person confined to bed can be as helpless as an infant. None of us would consider leaving an infant without proper supervision, but sometimes it is difficult to make an adequate comparison with a bedridden or severely disabled adult. If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” you may need to have a back-up care plan when you must leave the person you care for, even for a short period of time.
- Do they feel comfortable with being left alone or are they afraid to be alone for an hour or more? Do they become clingy when caregivers depart and make frequent telephone calls if alone?
- Can they get to the bathroom and use the toilet or a bedside commode on their own without a risk of falling? If not, have alternatives been worked out?
- Can they access &/or fix something to eat if they get hungry? If they might try to use the stove, do they know how to use it, and will they remember to turn it off?
- Will they stay home or near the house, or might they wander off? If they go outside, do they know where they live and how to get back inside?
- Can they identify signals of potential dangers, such as smoke from the kitchen, breaking glass, sparks from electrical appliances or outlets or the sound of a fire alarm?
- Do they understand how to leave the home in an emergency? Are they physically able to leave? Do they know where the door is located and how to exit the building?
- Can they use the phone to call for help? Can they find and read a list of emergency contacts? Do they know how and when to dial 911? Would they be able to communicate over the phone? Can they physically get to a phone no matter where they are? If they have a medic alert button, will they remember to push it?
- Do they have the judgment to identify a stranger and who they should and should not let into the home? Will they allow family, friends and emergency personnel into the home, as needed?
- Do they have life-threatening medical emergencies that require immediate intervention?
- Do they know where any medication they might need is located? Can they reach it? Do they have the capacity to select the right medicines in the correct amounts?
The homes we live in when we are in our 60s and 70s may no longer be safe when we are 80 or 90. Stairs, winding hallways, slippery tile, a TV that’s not anchored or furniture such as tall shelving units can be potentially dangerous. Also, yards with uneven ground or long grass, poorly lit rooms or small bathrooms in the home of an aging loved one may make it unsafe for the person to be left alone. (See our next blog for more tips on how to make your home safe for seniors and other disabled loved ones.)
Where to get help
Some caregivers can get the back-up help they need from neighbors, family members and friends, but others may need to hire a professional to be with their loved one when they cannot. Before you get to the point where you feel like “I just can’t do this anymore,” or even if you’re already there, remember that DTN Home Care can help expand your circle of care by providing services around-the-clock or as needed. We will assign an experienced case manager and registered nurse to visit the home, evaluate and assess the person’s needs and work with you, your family and home care staff to help ensure the safety of a loved one when you can’t be there. To inquire about in-home healthcare from DTN Home Care for yourself or a loved one, call 701.663.5373.
By Marti Lythgoe, DTNHC Writer & Editor