If your parents have moved to South Florida or spend their winters here, Thanksgiving and the holidays may be the first time you are seeing them in several months. If Mom or Dad are getting on in years, you may notice some changes setting in.
Don’t be afraid to listen to your intuition that some things may be getting harder for them than they used to be. Take a look at how they manage their hygiene, daily household chores, finances and medical conditions. If possible and appropriate, find time to discuss their ideas for the future, including any updates on their preferences should they begin to need any help or find themselves in a health emergency. It can help to express these as questions that will help put your mind at ease, sure – as you are – that they have thought through these topics.
Hopefully your parents are doing just fine and there is no change in their ability to manage safely on their own. If you are at all concerned, the following is a list of questions to ask yourself – as well as anyone else who may see your parents regularly, such as neighbors – that may help you assess their capabilities:
- Has your parent lost weight recently? This might suggest health issues or difficulty maintaining a nutritious diet.
- Is your Mom or Dad forgetfulness or repetitive? Has there been a noticeable change from your last visit?
- Does your parent seem to understand their medications and takes them as prescribed? Do you have any reason to think they do not have a good command of their prescribed medications and how to consistently manage them?
- Are they keeping up with their mail? Are bills paid on time? Are you finding and late notices?
- Does your aging loved one appear well groomed and are they wearing clean clothes?
- Do they seem uninterested in activities they used to enjoy? Have they pulled back from seeing their friends and going out?
- How do they manage shopping, cooking, driving and laundry? Are they able to drive safely? Get in and out of the car? Navigate new stores?
- How is their balance? Have they fallen in last 6 months?
- Have they been keeping their medical and social appointments?
- Is their demeanor different? Are they argumentative or seem depressed or anxious?
- Has anything in their routine or surroundings changed recently? These could include the loss of a friend, a favorite restaurant closing, or taking a new medication?
If you notice any of these things or other real changes, it may be time to get a professional evaluation. Something is going on, and what you are seeing are the symptoms. A social worker, a physician or a geriatric care manager can help you and your loved one uncover and address the root cause.
A family discussion may be needed to determine the best way to keep your aging parent safe and independent. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but even a parent having physical problems or cognitive difficulties can maintain their independence while remaining safe.
The quickest and all-encompassing solution is to hire in-home care or work with a company that can refer experienced caregivers. A home health aide can assist with personal care, help with household chores, provide companionship, transportation and better nutrition by accompanying your loved one shopping and assisting with cooking. Nutritional science has taught us in recent years that how well we eat has a lot to do with our physical and cognitive health.
What many families do not realize is that home health care is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Personal care assistants can visit for as few as one or two hours per day to assist with light housekeeping or other household chores. Even a modest level of in-home care services can keep seniors living in their own homes independently, comfortably and safely.
If one parent is a primary caregiver to the other, the care provider may benefit from some respite care – a break to recharge, tend to household or personal needs and share some of their caregiving responsibility.
These are difficult conversations to have and decisions to make. We recommend you take note of the changes you observe, and use time over the holidays to discuss your observations with siblings and your parents in a practical, non-alarmist manner. It is important for all involved to recognize that these are not discussions about assisted living or nursing homes – these are important conversations about how your aging parents can stay safe while remaining at home.
If you need assistance or guidance in navigating these discussions – even if you or your parents are not ready for home health care – please do not hesitate to reach out to one of our care specialists. We have been helping families care for seniors at home for over 25 years, and are happy to share what we’ve learned over the years.