Our experience is oftentimes an adult son or daughter talks with their senior age parent on the phone and are reassured that, “Everything is fine!” Sometimes, however, over a holiday or in-person visit, the adult children may begin to notice some change in the appearance of their parent, the condition of their parent’s residence, or even the condition of the automobile. The adult children are wondering: is Mom Okay? How to tell and what to do are important parts of the job of family members.
Occasionally a neighbor of your parents may comment about their condition or a particular situation. Some seniors may need assistance to continue living safely and comfortably in their own home. Here are some things to look for:
Parent is losing or gain weight due to improper nutrition
Parent is dehydrated from not drinking liquids regularly
Parent is not routinely getting dressed, or not getting dressed in fresh clothes
Parent is having a hard time keeping up with medications regularly
Parent is showing some confusion and forgetfulness
There are unexplained dings and scratches on parent’s car
Once you notice any or all of these occurrences, it’s time to begin the process of talking with your parent, or parents, to see if you can assist them in living safely and comfortably at home. Actually, if you are 40 years of age or older, and your parents are 70 years of age or older, it may be time for you to start talking with them before a crisis occurs! In our publication, The 40-70 Rule: A Guide to Conversation Starters for Boomers and Their Senior Loved Ones, the following is suggested:
Get Started Now
If you are 40+ and your parents are 70+: Observe and gather information carefully and thoughtfully. Have an open mind as you talk with your parents.
Talk It Out
Approach your parents with a conversation. Discuss what you have observed and ask your parents what they feel is going on. If your parents acknowledge the situation, ask what they think would be good solutions. If your parents do not recognize a problem, use concrete examples to support your case (“Hey Dad, what happened to the car?”).
Sooner is Best
Talk sooner rather than later or when a crisis has occurred. If you know your loved one has poor eyesight or has trouble driving at night, begin to address these issues now. (“Mom, let’s figure out a plan for how you can get around town if you no longer feel safe driving.”)
Forget the “Baby Talk”
Remember, you are talking with an adult. Put yourself in your parents’ shoes and think of how you would want the situation to be addressed. (The house is a mess: “Mom, I have some extra cash. What do you say we find someone to help you with the heavy stuff, like vacuuming? It will be my treat.”)
Always try to move toward solutions that provide the maximum amount of independence for the older person. Look for answers that optimize strengths and compensate for problems. Professional caregiving services, for example, provide assistance in a number of areas including meal preparation, medication reminders, companionship, personal care, light housekeeping and incidental transportation. Professional care givers also assist in reducing the risk of falling.
Be Aware of the Whole Situation
If your dad has passed away and soon afterward your mom’s house seems to be in disarray, it is probably not because she suddenly became ill. It’s much more likely to stem from a lack of social support and the loss of her life-long relationship. Make sure that your mom has friends and a social life.
Ask for Help
Many of the issues of aging can be solved by providing parents with the support they need to continue to maintain their independence. Resources such as professional care giving service companies, area agencies on aging, and senior centers can help provide these solutions. Social workers and professional geriatric managers can assist, too.
A Senior Moment or Something More?
You’ve just stopped by your parents’ house and for the second time in a month noticed that your 80-year old mother has forgotten the name of a close friend. Is it Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, a senior moment or just a passing phase? More importantly, how do you find out? You might say “Gee Mom, perhaps you should see a doctor and get checked out. It would really put my mind at ease if you’d let a doctor make sure your memory is O.K.” Such a conversation starter really focuses on the positive, and we encourage this.
The Money Talk
Your parents have always been very independent and private about handling their finances. Lately you’ve seen that they’ve been cutting back on food and other necessities. You’re concerned that their staples are in short supply. How do you broach this subject? Some conversation starters might be, “Boy, there’s not much food around the place – what are you eating?” A humorous, rather than accusatory comment is more likely to get a positive response, or if you feel this is too informal, try a more straightforward approach:
“Mom, I am a bit concerned about whether you are eating enough.”
Malnourishment can be a significant problem with older adults, and can be a sign of other issues that might need attention over and above finances – such as poor fitting dentures, poor memory, or even depression. If the other evidence points to a financial issue, ask about that directly or simply make an offer: “I know you’re pretty private about money, but you know that if you ever ran into problems, I’d do what I could to help, right?”