Background: I take care of my 87-year-old mom. I'm 67, in pretty good shape for the shape I'm in. Ha! She lives with me. I thought I'd pass along some of the things that have worked for me hoping that some people may find the information useful.
If you don't have a healthcare power of attorney for your parents, get one. Same with the regular power of attorney. You'll need both of them. If you wait too long? You won't be able to have them drawn up. Your parent(s) have to be competent to do so.
Call your county Council on Aging or whatever it's called so you can find out what help may be available to them (or you, as you care for them). Some of it may be free...some of it may be available at greatly reduced rates. In DuPage County, Illinois they sent out a case worker to interview her and I (mom has dementia), and she qualified for $750 a year for companion support thru approved providers. I'll use that up quickly for respite care -- so Tom and I can get out together. She can't be left alone.
If your parent goes into the hospital, immediately contact the Social Worker,at the hospital and explain your parent(s) situation. Ask for their recommendations and guidance. They will be invaluable to you.
After three days in-hospital, Medicare will provide up to 100 days of nursing home care, if your parent has a skilled need -- or if he/she needs rehabilitation. After most hospital stays, an elderly parent will benefit from physical therapy. Muscle mass deteriorates rapidly when patients are off their feet. Take advantage of it. It represents a respite for you and helps your parent become stronger -- and thus safer -- in your home.
After your parent gets HOME for either the hospital or nursing home (for rehab or skilled care), he/she can probably get in-home physical therapy, occupational therapy, a visiting nurse and a personal care person (to bathe) for a period of time. Take advantage of it. They will all have recommendations for making your home safer and helping YOU learn the right way to physically assist your parent. They'll also have wonderful resources for all sorts of help.
We got a "transport chair" for mom instead of a wheelchair. It's easier to move about in the house though less convenient for stairs, etc.
If your parent is unsure on his/her feet and shouldn't be walking alone or without their walker, use a light-weight belt to loosely fasten them in their chair. It's a reminder more than anything else. With old age and infirmity comes forgetfulness/dementia. Had I done that simple thing, mom would never have tried to get up to go to the bathroom when my back was turned. And wouldn't have broken her hip. It just takes an instant.
If your parent isn't sleeping well and wakes you throughout the night, talk to their doctor for some help. You need your rest. If they are a fall risk during the night, either have a hospital bed prescribed (Medicare will pay if your doctor will write the script) or buy add-on rails for your regular bed. Are they fool-proof? No. But sometimes it's the best we can do.
See if your area has in-home doctors. Mom has one. He comes once a month, has a 24-hour registered nurse available throughout the night, and is easily contactable during the day. Between Medicare and mom's supplement, she pays nothing for this WONDERFUL service. The social worker at the hospital can give you names. So can a nursing home if your parent went to one for rehab, and so can the visiting nurse. An invaluable resource.
Encourage friendly visitors for your parent. When they come, YOU can get out for a little while. They also greatly enrich your parent's life. If your parent has dementia, teach them how to treat her -- like don't argue, "That never happened," just go along to get along.
If your parent does not want to be resuscitated, make sure you have the necessary document your state requires readily available (on the fridge) for paramedics. If you are their HCPOA and are making that decision for your parent according to their wishes as best you know them? Same thing. Get your ducks in a row.
I'm going to stop -- may add another post. I've had mom with me almost a year--in and out of hospital/nursing home because of health issues and a broken hip. I'd have given anything to know this information a lot sooner than I did.
Hope it helps someone. And hope others will add their own tips/tricks.