The issue of aging parents concerns all of us sooner or later. We wonder when is it time to suggest a change, and when is it time for an intervention? Are you actually seeing a problem or is it your imagination because they are simply getting older?
For the most part many of us truly don’t want to acknowledge that our parents are starting to have difficulty with daily activities. Their hugs have always been mighty enough to make us feel better, their minds have always been nimble enough to provide us with the answers we were looking for, and none us want to think that those times may be coming to an end. Most of the time our parents won’t acknowledge it either, and they often get upset if it is mentioned to them that they may need more assistance than in the past. Since it is difficult to accept, and even more difficult to confront, many of us avoid the topic leaving a white elephant in the room. We know there is an issue that needs to be addressed but nobody wants to be the one to bring it up.
In a perfect world this would be discussed before it happens. In a perfect world you would talk to your parents when they are not experiencing problems and you would come to an understanding where you and they have reached decisions about what to do “just in the event…”.
It is clearly not easy to bring the subject up but if you are still years away from managing their aging problems, it’s important to have this discussion with them before they are feeling vulnerable. You might want to take notes, sign and date them and have them do the same. Make a copy of the notes and put the originals away in a safe place. This will make it easier if there is ever a problem, and if there are any questions you will be able to show your parents what was agreed upon, their signature is on it, and hopefully everyone will be able to move on according to that plan.
If you are beyond this stage and are concerned then read on.
If you are feeling concerned, chances are you are seeing something. What’s the best way to assess your parent’s ability to continue living independently without help?
Here are a few signs that may indicate they need help:
Mom has always had a place for everything but lately her house has begun to look cluttered: This could mean a lot of things, perhaps she is more tired than usual, maybe she has been busy with another project, or maybe she is increasingly becoming overwhelmed with maintaining her home. Monitor this to see if this is getting worse.
Bills and other mail is piling up: This is another sign of being overwhelmed from tasks that used to easy to deal with. Check to see if she is maintaining her checking account, and the bills are being paid.
Weight loss: This commonly happens after the loss of a spouse. Meal preparation, cooking, and shopping become too difficult. Check to see if there is food in the refrigerator and that it is not spoiled or old.
Wearing the same outfits, poor hygiene. They either forget to change their clothes or are wearing the same outfit for days. They are not bathing on a regular basis.
Wearing inappropriate clothing: Wearing winter clothes in the summer, going out without a jacket, going out with slippers on rather than shoes.
The bathroom and linens are dirty: The bathroom has not been cleaned, and the bed linens are dirty. This is another sign of being overwhelmed with household tasks.
Safety issues in the kitchen: There is a kettle that is burned on the bottom because it was left to boil dry, there is mildew under the sink because the water was left on, pots and dishes are unwashed in the sink, food is left out. These are not signs of being overwhelmed…this is more of a safety issue where the person is at risk.
Missed appointments: Missed doctors appointments, medication, church services all indicate a problem.
Odd behavior: Strange conversations, paranoia, weird phone calls, nervousness, may be signs that help is needed. I once had a dear great aunt call me three times in a row, and with each call in her mind it was the first call to me.
Depression: Become familiar with the signs of depression. Several of the issues mentioned here are identical with depression. A doctor should determine this.