Checking up on elderly loved ones

Newsday—December 26, 2012

As principal of LaFrancis Hardiman Elementary School in Wyandanch, Delores Jenkins has her hands full, overseeing the operation of the school and its nearly 600 prekindergarten through grade two students.

But after school, Jenkins goes to the nearby two-story home of her parents, Jamie-Mae Maxwell, 85, and Herman Maxwell, 87. "I stop by after I leave work to see how they're doing; if they're eating and taking their medication, and to see how my father is breathing" in case he's having difficulty, said Jenkins, who lives five miles away in Wheatley Heights.

Her parents, generally, are independent and can take care of themselves, Jenkins said. "My mother cooks and cleans. They get dressed every day. They go to the store and to doctors' appointments." But given their ages, Jenkins, a widow and grandmother of five, worries about them, especially if she's not around.

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Since falls are a major cause of hospitalization and disability among the elderly, Dr. James Wyss, an assistant attending physician at Hospital for Special Surgery's office in Uniondale, emphasizes prevention by inspection. "Are there clear spaces for them to walk at home? Is there a lot of clutter, such as throw rugs, changes in the level of the surface?" Wyss, a specialist in mobility issues, said visual problems, weakness and poor balance should be addressed. Equilibrium can be impaired by new medications, and falls can also result from orthopedic or neurological problems, he said. "Sometimes, there's a medical cause that's treatable."

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