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Thanksgiving 2010-Look For Signs That Your Aging Parent Needs Help

Posted Nov 13 2010 12:46pm

It is a perfect month to honor family caregivers—spouses, daughters, sons, nieces, nephews and friends who give their time to make the life of a family member better. With all the celebrations and family visits that happen around Thanksgiving and the holidays in December, this is also the time that many family members notice the first signs that a loved one needs help.

It is usually easy to recognize that someone is seriously ill. But, the first signs that a aging parent is beginning to need care can be subtle.

I wrote about my own Thanksgiving wake-up call as a family caregiver in a previous post.  It was clear when I visited that Dad was losing it in the kitchen. He now needed help.

My father had amazed us by mastering the art of basic cooking after my Mom died in 1993. She had been the cook since they were married 45 years earlier. Yet, he managed to learn a variety of recipes including old family favorites.

That ended Thanksgiving 2006.

Signs That An Aging Parent Needs Help

  1. If your mother or favorite aunt has always been a neat freak but now there is a two inch layer of dust everywhere, there may be a problem. In my Dad’s case, it was the burned-on food on the stove that tipped me off.
  2. Your loved one, who has always been neat and well-dressed, shows up to a family event with clothes in disarray or with food stains. It could be that your dear aunt doesn’t have the energy to walk all the way to the basement to do the laundry. Or it could be that arthritis is making her favorite clothes hard to put on.
  3. Problems with basic finances or memory. My Dad charmed the tellers at his local bank into balancing his checkbook for him. He got away with this for months. I caught on when he got a collection notice.
  4. How is your parent’s driving?. My father’s driving was slow but reasonable as long as he stuck to areas he knew well. But, then, he got lost coming back from the car dealership and ended up in a single car accident. The accident was such a scare that he didn’t fight me when I suggested that he needed to stop driving. Fortunately, his senior apartment complex had a shuttle that he could use to get to the store and the bank.
  5. Has your Dad lost weight? This could be a clue to an illness or that he just can’t cook for himself.
  6. Is your Mom having a difficult time climbing the stairs? Has she fallen?
  7. Are you noticing memory problems? Mood changes? Sadness that doesn’t go away? Withdrawal from normal activities? Any of these can be clues that your aging parent needs help.

Start by having a loving conversation. “Mom, I’m concerned about you. I noticed that…”

Don’t expect to solve the problem in one sitting.  Get  a complete understanding of the extent of the problem and look for creative solutions. You will need patience to continue the conversation if your parent is in denial.

Keep in mind that small changes are easier than big ones. Instead of planning a move to assisted living, see if Meals on Wheels and help with cleaning would take care of the problem.

And, once you have identified a problem, don’t keep it to yourself. Enlist other family members to help. You don’t need to provide family caregiving alone. Do be patient with your family, though. This is a big adjustment for them, too.

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