A daughter visited her parents at Thanksgiving at her their home. She lived out-of-state, and doesn’t get to see them frequently. Both of her parents had lost weight since she had last seen them, especially her mother. And when she looked inside their fridge, she found expired food.
There were other worrisome signs. Her 83-year old mother was forgetting things. Her dad was having trouble with household duties, like changing light bulbs and maintaining their checking account. He’d stopped doing some of his regular hobbies, like crossword puzzles, and he casually mentioned that his wife had fallen a few times lately.
Going home for the holidays has many reasons of importance for adult children, especially those who don’t see their parents often. It remains a time of celebration and togetherness, but it’s also an opportunity to observe your parents’ mental and physical condition.
Some advice for adult children with aging parents is to look for any obvious signs of change. For example, if your dad is normally well-dressed and clean-shaven, but he appears to be wearing stained, dirty clothes, has body odor and disheveled hair, and he doesn’t seem self-conscious about this, there may be something going on. Watch your parent walk across the room. Are they as mobile? Are they struggling to get out of a chair? Do they have any noticeable bruising or skin changes?
What to Observe:
• Changes to their physical appearance or hygiene
• Household changes (e.g. abnormal clutter, mess, or unsanitary conditions)
• A change in mobility
• Obvious weight loss/gain
• Dents in the vehicle
• Losing items or leaving belongings in strange places (e.g. dentures in the refrigerator, food in the bathroom)
• Frequent confusion/memory loss (e.g. forgetting the names of household items, repeating stories over-and-over)
• Spoiled food in the fridge, or low amounts of food in the house
• Decreased judgement regarding finances (e.g. overspending, stacks of unpaid bills)
• Frequent changes in mood and personality
• Inability to manage their medications (e.g. not taking medications, taking incorrect dose or at an incorrect time, not sure which medication is which)
Try to avoid jumping to conclusions or making knee-jerk judgments. Evaluate the situation and gather information over the course of the time you have together.
It’s best to avoid heavy topics during the holidays, but if you have a good relationship with your parents, some of these issues may come up in conversation naturally. If there are safety concerns (like forgetting to turn off the stove), immediate action must be taken.
Share your concerns with your siblings after the holidays. You can collectively discuss each person’s different perspectives on what they observed and how to approach the situation. The more you can come to a common agreement, the easier and more likely changes will be made successfully. It could also be helpful to speak with their friends, neighbors or others who may have noticed a decline. You could introduce yourself to their neighbors and leave your contact information behind. Let them know you welcome them to contact you if they have concerns.
Also, you can explore community resources that are available such as cleaning services, grocery or meal delivery and home caregiving services.
Talk to Your Parents
Be sure you have specific examples of changes in health or behavior prior to having this important conversation with your parents. Have ideas to help them remain independent and in control. You want to avoid sharing this in a way that comes across as judgmental or talking down to them. How you say things is equally as important as what you say, so you want to have a plan for how you deliver the message.
If you have a challenging relationship with your parent(s), you may consider seeking guidance from your parent’s doctor, or a geriatric care manager or senior care advisor. Sometimes people receive feedback better from a third-party or professional than their immediate family.
Be realistic with yourself and your expectations. Don’t expect to resolve matters in one conversation. Discussions of this nature generally involve a process of multiple conversations.
Parents may react strongly when approached by their concerned children. They may fear that this means their life will change drastically, or that they’ll be forced to move. It may make them feel like they’re losing control and possibly their independence. You can reassure them that your goal is not to make decisions for them, but to help guide them and help them maintain as much control as possible. Let them know that you want to help them be proactive and know what their options are to prevent a potential crisis in the future.
On the bright side, there are often simple actions you can take to empower your parents to remain independent, like installing a Lifeline alert or a grab bar in the shower, or hiring a caregiver to help them with their activities. You can seek guidance by contacting their physician, senior care advisors, elder care attorneys, etc.
It can be difficult for an adult child to admit that the parents that raised them now need help. But, it’s easier to be proactive in seeking out resources and solutions than react after a crisis.
If you or someone you love would benefit from learning about senior care resources, or are in need of a caregiver, please contact us at Hallmark Homecare. We would be happy to help.