How and When to Talk to Your Aging Parents About In-home Care
Imagine this scenario: It's 2:00 a.m. and the phone rings. The person on the other end of the line tells you your 72 year old mother is in the emergency room after a bad fall. You are jolted awake and rush to the hospital to be with her. There is a host of nurses, case managers, therapists and other people in and out of her room and you are answering questions left and right about her insurance, health and social history and family is calling to ask for updates. This is a stressful time; not one that you want to be thinking about what care needs your mom is going to need when she is discharged. Yet, according to elder care experts, most families wait until after a crisis to address the topic of aging care.
These experts say if you are 40 and your parents are 70, it is a good time to start having conversations about your parents’ care needs and what they do and do not want. These conversations can be difficult, so we recommend the C.A.R.E. method:
C – Challenges – ask your parents what challenges they envision facing over the coming years.
A – Alternatives, or options to address those challenges
R – Resources or assets that will help them through those challenges
E – Experience, what experience do they want to create for themselves and what do they want to avoid.
Being proactive in having this conversation with your parents will make initiating care when it is time much easier. So, how do you know when it is time to initiate care? After a debilitating fall or health event such as a stroke, the need for care can be obvious. However, it is common that the signs occur slowly over time and can be less obvious. The Mayo Clinic suggests looking for these warning signs as indications that your parents may need additional help:
Is Your Loved One Able to Manage Self-Care?
Common signs of decline include poor hygiene, sloppy dressing and unkempt appearance, says Maria Hood, director of admissions at United Hebrew in New Rochelle, a senior care facility in New York. “With my dad, we began to notice he wasn’t shaving, and his clothes were rumpled. This was a man who always took very good care of himself,” Hood says.
Also notice if the home is being kept up. Are the bills getting paid? Are the lightbulbs working? Are the appliances clean and the dishes put away? Are they able to go to the grocery or drugstore? Any changes in household upkeep or personal care offers clues to their health, the Mayo Clinic says.
Is There Significant Memory Loss?
We all lose some memory as we age, and the occasional misplaced keys or disappearing remote are nothing to worry about. What is worrying, though, is memory loss that affects bigger issues, like where you are, how to drive and what you just said minutes ago.
The Mayo Clinic’s signs of this type of memory loss include:
- Asking the same questions over and over.
- Getting lost in familiar places.
- Being unable to follow instructions.
- Being confused about location, time and well-known people.
Is Your Elderly Loved One Safe in the Home?
Check the home for clutter, loose rugs, exposed electrical cords and other dangers that could cause a fall. If your loved one seems in danger when climbing stairs or moving normally about the house, that is a red flag.
In addition, are they able to reach dishware, tools and other daily objects easily? Can they read and follow instructions on medication and other labels? Have you seen worrisome incidents, like falls, dropped glasses or missed medication doses? A safe home is paramount to keeping your loved one well.
Is He or She Safe Driving a Car?
We all make jokes about the old man driving too slow in the left lane, but it’s not funny. Hood noticed her father driving “white-knuckled” at 45 mph in a 65 mph zone, and took it, appropriately, as a sign that he was not up to the task. Slowed reflexes, diminished vision and hearing and increasing confusion all make driving a challenge as we age.
In addition, if you notice more dents and dings in the car, or if your loved one has gotten a ticket or a warning for a driving mishap, those are signs of the need for an intervention.
Has Your Loved One Lost Weight?
Unexpected and unexplained weight loss could be a sign of either physical or mental health problems – or potentially both.
The Mayo Clinic says weight loss could be a result of:
- Difficulty cooking. It may be hard to summon the energy or desire to cook, difficult to hold and manipulate cooking tools or challenging to read labels or follow directions and recipes.
- Loss of taste or smell. Aging naturally causes diminishment in these senses, and when food doesn't taste or smell good, eating becomes less enjoyable.
- Socioeconomic issues. Your loved one might find grocery shopping physically difficult or too expensive if they have financial pressures.
- Other health conditions. Weight loss can be a symptom of a serious underlying medical problem, such as malnutrition, dementia, depression or cancer.
Has Your Elder’s Mood or Spirits Changed?
Everyone gets sad, and the elderly often have a lot to be sad about, with the loss of friends and family and the everyday challenges of growing older. But clinical depression is not a natural product of aging, as some people believe. Many seniors maintain a happy outlook most if not all of the time. If you notice a change in mood that lasts longer than you might consider normal, it could indicate clinical depression or another illness.
Is Your Loved One Socially Active?
Social engagement is one of the primary markers of good physical and mental health. The coronavirus pandemic has made that difficult for everyone, and seniors are suffering from isolation like the rest of us. Check in on your loved one to see if they are staying as active as possible, connecting with friends, maintaining hobbies and participating in the activities they enjoy. If he or she has lost interest in being socially active, that is another red flag.
Is Your Elderly Loved One Walking Safely and Steadily?
Do you wince every time your aging mom or dad walks across the room? Do you hop up to help with even short walks from the table to the sink? Do they seem likely to fall?
Aging can lead to muscle weakness, stiffness and pain in the joints, balance problems and other issues that affect gait and steadiness on foot. Falling is a primary cause of disability in the senior population, so any sign of walking difficulty should be addressed immediately.
If your parents exhibit any of these signs, it may be time to call HomeSpark. We provide a range of services from Companionship, transportation, meal preparation to personal care. Our care plans are individualized to meet the specific needs of your loved ones. Don’t wait until an emergency to have the conversation with your parents and don’t wait to call us.