Here are five things you can do to ensure your parents can keep their independence in the years ahead.
1. Assess Caregiving Needs.
Determine what your parent needs help with on a daily or weekly basis. For example, would they be better off if they were having the groceries delivered? Can your dad follow his medication schedule? Do your parents need help with housework? Evaluate their needs, and then match up service providers to take care of those needs.
One major factor in an elderly person's independence is their ability to drive. If they are not capable of doing so without possibly causing injury to themselves or others, then arrange other transportation options. Many municipalities, volunteer groups, and nonprofit organizations offer seniors rides for little to no fee.
2. Make Home Modifications.
Next, assess your parents' home and determine whether or not it can safely sustain them now and in the future.
Mobility and the ability to monitor their safety is key. If possible, make modifications to their existing home. Consider (where possible) tearing down walls to create a more navigable floor plan, installing easier-to-access showers and sinks, and modifying fixtures so they're more user-friendly.
Also, look into home monitoring systems, which are becoming more sophisticated every year. Some technologies even have the ability to detect changes in your parents' activity. For example, if the system senses that Mom took a fall, it can send instant alerts to you and 911 in emergency situations.
If their home cannot be modified to accommodate your parents as they age, then be proactive about looking for a new residence (e.g., a new single-story home in a neighborhood near you or assisted living).
3. Find Community Resources.
Until recently, local resources for seniors mostly consisted of adult day care centers and Meals on Wheels programs. But as the population of adults age 65-plus escalates over the next couple of decades, more resources will become available.
4. Enlist Local Support and Companionship.
Many adult children live hundreds or even thousands of miles from their parents. While Skype and phone calls are helpful, there's no substitute for live check-ins to make sure your parent is comfortable, safe, and happy.
Identify and recruit local family members, friends, or neighbors who can stop in to be your eyes and ears.
If your parent is lonely and would like round-the-clock companionship, consider pet ownership. Pets can reduce feelings of isolation and give people a focus outside themselves. They allow people to take on a caregiving role that not only provides a reason to get out of bed, but also an overall sense of purpose. PAWS' Seniors for Seniors adoption program places older dogs and cats with senior citizens.
5. Do the Right Thing.
Even after you've made the necessary changes, there may come a time when your parents are no longer safe living on their own in their home. That is the time to consider moving them into a more secure, monitored environment.
While leaving one's home is difficult and often viewed as a last resort, quality of care means doing the right thing at the right time. Your parents' safety is the first priority. If it will compromise their well-being, it isn't worth keeping them at home.
Sit down with your parents and thoroughly evaluate their current living situation. By taking these steps, you'll not only unburden your parents, but also increase their chances of aging in place independently, happily, and safely for as long as possible.
Nicole Seghetti is a contributing writer to The Motley Fool.