Keeping a Watchful Eye on Aging Parents
As your parents enter their twilight years, you may feel as though you don't want to meddle in their affairs. But when it comes to their health and safety, try not to stay in the dark. By paying attention to any warning signs, you'll be in a better place to take steps that can help them stay independent as long as possible.
Here are a few things to watch for.
Parent trap? Has a parent suffered a fall at home? Or, is one of them about to undergo a major surgery such as a hip replacement? If so, it's likely time to view your parents' home through a new "lens." The loose throw rugs that were once no big deal may now be a set-up for trouble. See if other adjustments are needed, such as a raised toilet seat, extra handrail, or shower chair, for example.1
Mysterious weight loss. This is a red flag at any age, and is worth checking out. Often, it's the result of an underlying medical condition. But it can also mean something's "brewing" in the kitchen. Maybe the chef of the family is now having trouble with cooking tasks. Or, problems with taste or smell may have developed due to aging, illness, or a medication.1
Declining self care and home care. Is your normally fastidious father letting himself go – wearing the same clothes for three days in a row? Do you increasingly find rotten food in the fridge or an overgrown garden that was once your mother's pride and joy? These can be signs of Alzheimer's or depression. Or, there may be another underlying health condition that's partly to blame.1
Shifting behaviors. Have neighbors or friends noticed a change in one of your parents' behaviors? Maybe they've become unusually noisy, more agitated, or up at strange hours of the night. Maybe finances are in disarray or a large number of magazines are now showing up in the mailbox.2 Has a parent become unwilling to get out and see friends or to keep up with hobbies and activities? These could be signs of Alzheimer's or depression. But don't rule out physical sources for some of these problems. 1
If you notice signs of a problem, where should you begin? Start by expressing your concerns with your parents. You might do this together with other loved ones or maybe a clergy. Or, offer to take your parent to a doctor appointment. Take an inventory of the house to see which safety issues need to be addressed first. Is it possible to hire someone to handle household chores or to run errands? Or, can you arrange for meals to be delivered or for a home health care aide to help with daily activities? If these measures are not enough, it may be time to suggest a move to an assisted living facility.
If you don't know where to find resources, try the Eldercare Locator at eldercare.gov. It can connect you with services in the area where your parents live. And, remember that I'm always glad to consult with you about any concerns you have about your parents' medications.
These can be challenging times, but with the right support, you can do it.
1. Mayo Clinic: "Taking care of aging parents." http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aging-parents/HA00082
2. Eldercare Locator: "Warning Signs." http://www.eldercare.gov/ELDERCARE.NET/Public/Resources/Factsheets/Ten_Warning_Signs.aspx
3. Eldercare Locator: "Face the Facts." http://www.eldercare.gov/ELDERCARE.NET/Public/Resources/Factsheets/Face_the_Facts.aspx