How do you know?
Do you know if your parents need help?
Many older people may seem perfectly capable of running their own lives and homes, but often they are reluctant to admit they need help. We’ve listed a few signs that might indicate a parent is in need of some extra assistance. These suggestions are not intended as a complete list, nor are they a guide for seeking medical help. They are, however, fairly common symptoms that an older individual may need some added assistance.
Inadequate meals and nutrition
- It is very common for older individuals to lose interest in preparing well-balanced, nutritious meals – especially if they live alone. Yet good nutrition is just as important to their overall health and well-being as it is to a growing child. Discuss with your parent ways you can help ensure nutritional needs are being met.
Because a diminished sense of taste and smell or failing eyesight are common occurrences of aging, you may also find unusual amounts of spoiled food in your parent’s refrigerator.
With just one or two people in the house, staple food supplies are also often kept beyond their recommended use. It’s important this situation be brought under control, as consuming this food could result in serious health repercussions.
Unopened or piled-up bills
- Failing eyesight, recurring memory lapses, and hampered writing abilities are some of the reasons bills go unpaid. Many times older people have difficulty writing legibly – especially in the confined spaces on a check – or they are confused by particular billing procedures. Discuss the situation with your parent and ask if they would like help in sorting out the bills.
Recurring memory lapses
- Many older individuals can remember events that took place 30 years ago with more clarity than what they did yesterday. Memory lapses are not uncommon, but when they interfere with taking medication properly and on time, or result in forgetting to turn the stove off or other potentially serious risks, daily assistance may be needed.
- If your parent seems to be falling a great deal, make sure he/she has a complete physical examination. Many illnesses, as well as the side effects of some medicines, may be causing dizziness or lack of balance. A doctor may recommend using a cane or walker, or suggest personal assistance in the home as an appropriate solution. You might also check your parent’s home for loose rugs, poor lighting, and slippery or uneven floor surfaces which could be contributing to the problem.
Lack of interest/feeling “down”
- Busy adult children often forget that an older parent’s circle of family and friends shrinks considerably with the passing years, yet social interaction and companionship may be more important than ever. Although feeling “down” at times is a very normal occurrence, continuation of this condition could be symptomatic of more serious health problems and the family doctor should be consulted. In most cases, however, simply encouraging your parent to be involved in outside activities – or if they are home-bound, obtaining companion services for them – may help relieve their loneliness and rejuvenate their interests and enjoyment of life.
- Some of the effects of aging include a natural slowing of reflexes, agility, and a decline in eyesight. Many older individuals continue to operate an automobile – even though they may be endangering themselves and others – because they fear losing their independence. If you feel your parent is no longer able to drive safely, discuss the issue openly with him/her. Let your parent know that transportation needs can be met in other ways. Some communities offer transportation to specific locations (such as medical clinics, community facilities, etc.) for older individuals. Many home health care services also include transporting and accompanying an individual to appointments, social or religious events, shopping, etc. as part of their service.
A marked change in behavior patterns
- Your mother has always kept a spotless home, but now you notice dishes piling up in the sink. Your father has never missed a Sunday service, now he no longer goes to church. These are examples of behavior changes that might indicate it is time for a frank and open discussion with your parent. Many times it is simply a matter of tasks or routines becoming too difficult or tiring for them to perform. Arranging for help in the home or for transportation to and from activities can be the solution. However, a radical, unexplained change in behavior or mood that persists should be discussed with a doctor as soon as possible.
Look for clues in conversation
- When talking to your parent, listen for clues that may suggest some extra help is needed. Most parents don’t want to burden adult children with their problems, but repeated references to a particular concern – or something that causes them great difficulty – may be their way of reaching out for help in finding a solution. Close friends or neighbors can also provide valuable insights into any problems your parent may have in coping with day-to-day activities.