Knowing When Your Parents Need Help
It’s important to know when you need to consider seeking help for your aging parents. Over the past 50 years, the trend is to live longer, healthier lives and this trend is expected to continue well into this century. Advances in medical technology are allowing us to live independent and active lives. Few consider turning 65 as a sign of getting old.
Due to age-related difficulties, a majority of our parents, friends and relatives will need help with their daily lives. Regular conversations about how your parents perceive themselves living out the remainder of their lives become critical.
Expressing your natural concern about your parent’s health is as important for your mental health, as it is for your aging parents. Depending upon your relationship with your parents it may be difficult to talk about subjects like, getting older, needing help, and planning to move to a retirement community. Remember, it is much easier to start the discussion when they are in good health than when they are in the hospital.
Signs to be noticed
These are signals your parents are likely to require additional support.
- If one or both of your parents are losing weight, their refrigerator is not stocked as usual; this requires further review and discussion.
- Be aware of physical deterioration and mental disintegration.
- Watch for bruises as an indicator they may be falling and not telling you.
- The stories your parent is telling you aren’t making sense, they may be hiding something.
- Forgetting their normal routine, doctor appointments or medication.
- Avoiding answering your phone calls.
- Their emotional state of mind changes suddenly.
- They stop caring for themselves or the things they enjoy.
- Their driving becomes erratic.
- Their handwriting suddenly changes.
- Blaming others for their confusion and make excuses.
- They mention they got confused or lost while driving or walking someplace.
- They blame others for their accidents: “They turned right in front of me, I didn’t see him.”
- They sleep in their recliner or favorite chair instead of their bed.
- They drink or take sleeping or pain pills more frequently.
- They stopped talking about visiting their friends.
- They stop attending religious services or quit volunteering.
- They are making some rash decisions that are inconsistent with their values.
- They are purchasing useless items on television, hoarding or exhibiting obsessive behavior.
Even though these behaviors are indicators of significant changes in a person’s health, it is important to separate normal changes in behavior that are relevant to aging from changes that are the beginning of more serious risk factors. If your parents or someone you love is displaying a number of these behaviors you may need to consult with a professional or take action before they or someone else gets injured.
For instance, a recent tendency to stop doing housework can be a normal part of aging, or it can represent illness or a decline in health and physical weakening. There are a few indicators that may help you decide if your concerns are reasonable and if your parent’s health and safety issues require action.
Five standards to be used when evaluating your parent’s safety:
- Driving Safety: when a parent begins to drive differently, especially when they become increasingly cautious, the physical causes could be due to:
• Changes in vision
• Difficulty hearing
• Medication-induced dizziness or confusion
• Decreased reaction time
Begin by discovering the cause of the driving difficulties. Discuss with them the differences you’ve noticed and encourage your parent to get a complete physical before they can drive again. Many of these problems can be addressed with their doctor.
- Medical Safety: Medications allow aging adults to have a very high quality of life. Unfortunately, with multiple medications taken at variety of times, it becomes easy to skip a medication, or to double up unintentionally on a dose. Plastic or electronic pill organizers, labeled with the days of the week (and sometimes even labeled: morning, noon, and evening) will enable your aging parent to manage their medicines. If you conclude that your parents are unable to take their medications as prescribed, they need assistance.
- Financial Safety: There are two issues of financial safety to consider with aging parents.
- Are they able to manage their routine monthly bills?
- Can they responsibly make long-term financial decisions?
- Begin by looking for evidence of unpaid bills like late notices when you know that they have the money to meet their expenses. Making responsible financial decisions is an important area to inspect. It may be time to discuss with your parents what retirement income and Medicare benefits they receive and how they are utilizing them.
- Are they susceptible to the pressure of salespeople more interested in their purchase of goods and services for which they have no need? For some, steering them to an appropriate financial educational resource can make a difference.
- Daily Living Safety: When it becomes obvious that your parent cannot easily complete their normal daily activities, they need help.
- It could be that the help comes from your other parent who is in better physical and mental health.
- The helper could be you their adult child.
- Sometimes your parents require professional assistance.
- Home Safety: As your parents age, they will likely become weak. One indication that they getting frail is their ability to navigate stairs. As their dexterity and strength decrease, simple chores become increasingly difficult. Many home accidents can be prevented by adaptation or repair to their home. Some home modifications may be easy, like installing handrails or assistive devices in the bathroom and shower.
With careful planning and appropriate assistance, your parents can enjoy a safe and comfortable home.
Resources and Results
When our parents are doing well we would rather wait to talk about difficult subjects like aging. We tend to ignore subjects that can cause our parents to become defensive or fearful. Making the time to understand all the choices you have is a great gift for both you and your parents and their extended families. The difficult process of searching for resources that provide appropriate and affordable care for your parents can be overwhelming.
If you’ve been following and developing a plan with your parents, there will be a time when it is appropriate to act on what you’ve learned from your conversations with your parents. You’ll understand the aging issues affecting your parents, you’ll know their values and beliefs; you will have a record of the options that you've discussed, and you will be able to put in place the best plan for your parents. You may be required to customize the basic plan with new answers or better solutions. Every parent is unique; situations change and your parent's healthiness, competence, coping skills, values, attitudes, family structure, community support, and religious community can all influence the actions you are required to take.
Prior to your parents needing some type of services, it is good to investigate the local companies and facilities that provide the services that they are likely to need. Also be flexible enough to adapt your plan to met the actual needs of your parents at a particular time. Change is the only true constant throughout our lives. Being prepared for the change makes it much easier for everyone. Change may be gradual or sudden; it may come from an accident or illness or a medication. What is important is to be prepared with resources and services appropriate to your parent’s needs, wishes and lifestyle. Your preparation will make the transition easier for everyone.
Searching for resources and support options:
- Day Programs at Community Senior Centers offer programs and meals to older adults. Most of them are open five days a week. Their classes often include exercise, discussion groups, computer skills, arts and crafts, health education and socials.
- Another useful support program available in most communities is adult day-care. These programs provide seniors who cannot be left alone a place to stay during the day. Some adult day-care programs provide support for seniors who have dementia or physical limitations. These programs provide useful stimulation through planned activities.
- Some Hospitals offer Wellness Centers which provide health education programs for chronic disease management and remediation. Many Wellness Centers include a fitness center with exercise classes, fitness equipment and swimming pools supported by qualified physical therapist and trainers.
- Geriatric Care-Managers provide access to comprehensive services and will manage many aspects of aging.
- In-Home Companions will provide personalized services and friendship to an older adult who is living at home or in a senior housing community. Their visits provide for social interaction, and some include running errands, shopping and cooking but most do not provide personal care like showers.
- Home Health-Care workers are trained to serve older adults in their homes or senior living communities. Their services make it possible for many seniors to live at home and can be an alternative for seniors who require health or mobility support. Many seniors with mobility issues do not want to leave the comfort of their homes, and a Home-Health Care worker will provide the support which helps them to remain home. Most home-health care agencies provide healthcare specialists for in-home services from one to twenty-four hours a day. These professionals include home-health aides, homemakers, nurses, therapists, and medical social workers.
- Senior Living Facilities offer a number of retirement services. These choices include a continuum of care and several levels of care in one location. These services range from independent apartment housing through assisted living and full-time expert nursing. As your parent's health needs change, they can progress through the levels of care without relocating.
- Independent Living Retirement Communities offer apartment living on a rental basis. Communal dining and a full range of activities are present. Additionally, housekeeping, laundry, and other assisted-living services are typically available.
- Assisted-Living Communities offer an independent-living option that sometimes has an option of temporary 24-hour care. The typical assisted-living services include a common dining room, centralized housekeeping and laundry, group trips and activities plus a variety of services based on individual needs and lifestyle inclinations. Skilled nursing staff will generally provide 24-hour medical services, and additional specialists may be available for the chronically ill. Some assisted-living communities specialize in rehabilitation from hospitalization.
- Memory Care Communities provide assisted living for individuals with Alzheimer's who normally need 24-hour assistance for dressing, bathing, meals, medication monitoring, and transportation. These communities typically include daily activities and events within secure indoor and outdoor areas where residents are free to walk around, watch TV or play games.
- Continuum of Care retirement communities offers a variety of care services and care levels at a single location. Often their care services range from independent apartment housing through assisted living and skilled nursing. A person can move from one location to another as their needs change.
Selecting appropriate solutions
No one wants their parent’s golden years to be filled with danger or discomfort. By having reasonable discussions with your parents when there is plenty of time to for talking and careful planning, they will enjoy a happy and healthy life. If you or your parents identify specific concerns, a professional from Bender Terrace will assist you in finding the needed guidance and support. We know it is important to have access to professionals like medical doctors, case managers, social workers, geriatric care managers, lawyers, therapists, physical therapists or financial planners who can help you traverse the many concerns related to aging. Their skill and knowledge can be invaluable in helping you and your parents find solutions to your issues or opportunities and suggest effective options for all the places a senior's life can go.
When is it time to consider asking for help with your aging parents? For most of us by the time we think of this question, it is too late. The trend for Americans to live longer and healthier lives is expected to continue and the decline in health for most of our parents will be very slow.