Let’s face it: almost no one likes to go through their mail these days. There are the usual culprits: catalogs we didn’t request, sweepstakes we know we haven’t won, and of course, the never-ending stream of bills. Once in a while we get an invitation or personalized card from a friend or relative, but for the most part, in-home mail management is just another chore to get through.
But it can be more than that to an elderly person. What was once merely a tedious task becomes a confusing jumble of indiscernible chaos. This can be due to many reasons. Your elder’s eyesight may no longer be as good as it once was, or they have trouble determining what’s important (like bills) and what’s not (like those fake sweepstakes). Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to help in this situation. Read on for tips on how to make in-home mail management easier for your loved one.
In-home mail management tips
- Have a system. If your loved one’s desk or table is a mess of unopened mail, scattered bills, or random piles of paper, then better organization is the first step. Have separate boxes or files for incoming and outgoing mail, financial matters (bank statements, for example) versus personal messages (birthday cards for and from the grandkids), catalogs, etc. Make sure to have a distinct place to put anything that looks “fishy,” such as sweepstakes notifications, offers of sure-fire investments, and any request from charities (until you can vet them).
- Be prepared. Have everything for dealing with mail in one place for your elder – ideally a small desk or something similar. Make sure it’s well-stocked with envelopes, stamps, pens and pencils, an address book, bright lamp, and other important items. This way, they won’t have to go rummaging through the house looking for what they need when the time comes.
- Make it automatic. There are so many automatic bill-paying services these days, it’s almost a crime not to take advantage of them! Most utility and telephone companies have some type of automatic payment plan. They can be especially beneficial to seniors, since once they’re set up, there are no further steps your loved one needs to take (although you should still review the bills regularly to see that they’re correct).
- Trust, but verify. Even if your elder has agreed to accept your help setting up in-home mail management, be sure to check on them regularly. New systems take some time to get used to, and there’s a good chance your elder may make mistakes at the beginning. Also, since it’s a sad fact that elderly health tends to decline, you need to keep an eye out for when they start slipping with the new system. It may mean they’re having an increasingly difficult time with eyesight, arthritis, or even the early stages of dementia.
- Continue the conversation. Finally, make sure your loved one knows they can get in touch with you for additional assistance. Physical impairments, like the ones mentioned above, can interfere with a senior’s ability to write checks or sign documents. Handling financial matters can be especially overwhelming for a widowed elder who was used to his or her spouse helping with such things before. Finally, if your elder’s first language isn’t English or they’re an immigrant, it presents another layer of difficulty — especially when trying to understand financial matters like American banking and tax procedures.
Don’t let your elder suffer the consequences of poor in-home mail management
Helping the elder you love set up in-home mail management is more than just a gesture; it can help them avoid potential problems with far-reaching consequences. When the elderly have problems handling their mail – especially with regards to financial items such as bills – there is the possibility their utilities will be shut off, they’ll face eviction or foreclosure, or their credit rating will be ruined. They can also fall prey to scams by mail – ones that cheat them out of their home, life savings, or insurance policies. Talk to your loved one today to see how you can help them manage their mail and avoid these nasty pitfalls.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.