Knowing how to deal with elderly parents can be difficult. For instance, you may want to honor their wish to continue living in their current home, but you’re beginning to wonder whether it’s really safe for them to do so.
You’ve seen some changes in their situation recently. Should you be worried or is this just a normal part of aging?
And if there’s a problem, what should you do about it?
Here are some things you do need to be concerned about:
- Sudden or unexplained loss of weight. This could be a result of an underlying health problem or it could be that your parent is no longer eating properly. Either way, it’s not something that should be ignored.
- Not taking medications. There could be a number of reasons for this. It may be that your parent has been having adverse side effects and has decided on their own to stop taking their pills. If your parent has dementia, they may simply be forgetting to take them. The trouble is that failing to take medications can have serious consequences.
- Near disasters at home. Perhaps you see evidence that your parent has been having accidents in the kitchen or elsewhere around the home. They may act like they don’t know what you’re talking about or insist “it was nothing,” but next time they may not be so lucky.
- Unexplained bruises. This could be a sign they’ve fallen. If they live on their own and fall again and can’t get up, that’s a medical emergency, particularly if no one discovers them for a while.
- Going missing. Has your parent wandered off somewhere and appeared to get lost, even if just temporarily? This can happen in the early stages of dementia. The reason this is a serious concern is that half of people with dementia who go missing for longer than 24 hours end up seriously injured or dead. And it can happen again without warning.
- Social isolation. Its impact on mental health was brought into sharp focus by the pandemic. In fact, research suggests that loneliness can actually shorten a person’s life expectancy. Has your parent lost contact with friends or family? Have they become isolated in their own home?
- Caregiver stress. If there’s someone in your family who’s supporting your parent, their health needs to be considered as well. That someone may be you or another family member. If they reach the breaking point and have a health crisis, that can leave your parent without support, creating a dual crisis.
What should you do?
- Try to understand the underlying cause. It can be tempting to assume the reason for many of these problems is simple forgetfulness or – more seriously – dementia. But there could be a number of other possible reasons, some of which are treatable. For instance, a urinary tract infection or an interaction between drugs prescribed by different doctors could be the cause. Make sure that a physician – preferably a geriatrician or an internist or a family doctor who’s good at treating older patients with multiple conditions – does a thorough assessment to sort out what the underlying issue is.
- Find community support. Check out programs and services that may help your parent continue to live safely at home. These could include Meals on Wheels, adult day programs, home care, social clubs, home monitoring services, or pharmacies that dispense pills in blister packs organized by time of day and day of the week. Some of these services can also take pressure off family caregivers.
- Consider assisted living. Despite your best efforts, you may conclude that your parent would do better living at a place where meals are cooked for them, their medications are monitored, they have opportunities to make new friends, and help is available 24/7. In this case, a senior living community is likely the best option.
Bringing up the idea of assisted living with your parent can be tricky, particularly if you’ve previously said that you would help them stay in their own home. If you’re not sure how you’re going to bring up the topic, we have some suggestions. Contact us at a community near you, we’ll be happy to give you advice that’s right for your situation.