Color & Control:

Expert Advice

Healthcare professionals answer questions about caregiving, long-term care and seniors’ health

Q) Rain was leaking into the house the other day and dad didn’t even notice. I wonder what else he might be missing. I live hundreds of miles away. Can I arrange for someone to check on him?

Yes. A nursing agency can arrange for convenient check-ins by phone or in person. With government-funded support, you may be somewhat limited in terms of the times and days they will visit. If you are able to pay directly, however, you can set up convenient appointments for you and your dad.

Q) My mother is recovering from a stroke and will be coming home soon from the hospital. Are there any special things I need to know about her diet?

There are many things you can do to ensure your mother gets the best possible diet for her medical needs. A great resource is the Heart and Stroke Foundation website ( Here, you can find specialty recipes, meal planning tips and exercise options for someone recovering from a stroke. Before starting your mother on any special diet, talk to her doctor about any physical changes (e.g., swallowing issues) that may have arisen from her stroke.

Q) My husband has Alzheimer’s. He is restless at night and will get up and wander, making me concerned about his safety. I am also not getting enough sleep and finding it harder to cope with my day!

This is a very common issue in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Consider having an alarm set on the outside doors to ensure he’s unable to leave the home without your knowing. Leave a night light on as well, so it’s not totally dark if he does get up. Go through your home to see if there are any hazards, such as clutter and area rugs, which might cause your husband to fall. Another option is to hire someone who can be with him at night—even if only occasionally—to allow you to sleep. 

Q) Where can I find information about living at home with Alzheimer’s disease? My aunt has recently been diagnosed and our family needs to plan her care.

The Alzheimer Society of Canada is an excellent resource for someone in your situation. The society has a lot of information on its website. Is your aunt still able to care for herself, prepare her own meals and live independently? As her needs change, she may become eligible for home care support from the government. Alternatively, you could look into finding a caregiver.

Q)  How can we determine the level of care my father might need to help him live as independently as possible?

Having an in-home assessment done by a competent, knowledgeable healthcare professional is the first step to determining the level of care required. This person, usually a registered nurse, will be able to determine a plan of care that will help your father in living as independently as possible. The assessment will also include a complete look at any potential hazards in his home, such as an unsafe shower or unsuitable stair railing. You should start by asking your doctor for a referral. 

Q) Can having too many cats be a sign of illness? My sister has 22 and seems to be losing control of their care.

Having the cats is not the problem—it’s that your sister isn’t managing to care for them. Ask yourself If the lack of care for the cats is also transferring into her ability to manage activities of daily living. Perhaps she is also unable to feed herself properly, maintain her hygiene or dress appropriately for the weather. Watch for these signs. Also consider whether she is under stress. Does she have a history of mental illness? Is she lonely?  Ask if you can accompany her on a visit to the family doctor. He or she will be able to identify any physical issues and refer your sister to a mental health professional if necessary.

Q) My mother gets confused and anxious on her own, but she doesn’t want to move. How can I ensure her safety?

It may be time to consider homecare as an option to facilitate her safety and comfort. The best plan of action is to contact a few homecare agencies and interview them to determine which one has the services your mother needs. Expect them to complete an in-home assessment of not only your mother’s health, but also the safety of her environment. A care plan can be developed specifically for your mother with her input and yours. Consider a basket of services including a nurse, personal support workers, homemakers and companions, so that you don’t need to mix and match services, and so that as her needs change, these individuals can stay with you.

Q) My sister had a stroke and can’t use her left side. Will her ability to function return. Can I help?

It is very difficult to say whether your sister’s condition will improve, but a lot of stroke victims have good success with early intervention and rehabilitation programs. You can help by working with your sister’s physiotherapists and assisting with any exercises she has been given, and by reading literature and asking questions so you can understand more about post-stroke care and what to expect. Ask her to practise what she is being taught, and talk to her doctor about what you can do to help.

Q) Mother loves to cook, but tends to be forgetful. Are there ways to make her kitchen safer?

Encourage your mother to use a timer to help her remember to turn off all the appliances when she is finished. Keep heavier items in low cupboards and make sure she can plug all of her appliances directly into an electrical socket to avoid using extension cords. It’s also important to keep a multipurpose ABC-rated fire extinguisher in the kitchen—and remind your mother (or have pictures) how to use it.

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