Knowing when to begin discussions about needing assistance for aging parents is not always as simple as one might think. Maybe you've noticed unopened mail is piling up. Or parents who had been meticulous about their appearance are now wearing wrinkled clothes. When you bring up these observations, their instant response is, "Everything is fine, there's no need to worry."
Admitting they need help would mean they can no longer take care of themselves, and no one wants to lose their independence. Denial is the unrealistic hope that a problem is not really happening and will go away by itself. Admitting they need help and accepting assistance is not easy for people as they age. It represents a loss of independence. Denial plays a major role and signs get ignored.
The burden often falls on the family to recognize the signs that an aging parent might need help with daily living tasks. This may mean it may be time that your loved one move to assisted living. If they're not willing to admit it, how do you know if your elderly parent needs help? Look for the red flags listed below.
Signs Your Parent Needs Help
- Spoiled food that doesn't get thrown away
- Missing important appointments
- Unexplained bruising
- Difficulty getting up from a seated position
- Difficulty with walking, balance and mobility
- Uncertainty and confusion when performing once-familiar tasks
- Unpleasant body odor
- Infrequent showering or bathing
- A strong smell of urine in the house
- Noticeable decline in grooming habits and personal care
- Dirty house, extreme clutter and dirty laundry piling up
- Stacks of unopened mail or an overflowing mailbox
- Late payment notices, bounced checks and calls from bill collectors
- Poor diet or weight loss
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Changes in mood or extreme mood swings
- Forgetting to take medications, or taking incorrect dosages
- Unexplained dents and scratches on a car
Once the problem is realized, the family must decide if assisted living is the best option.
When and How to Start the Conversation
If you've noticed the warning signs, the time to start talking with senior parents is sooner rather than later. Do not wait until after a crisis has occurred. But how do you bring up sensitive subjects related to aging? Use conversation starters that might help overcome the awkwardness.
Discuss what you've observed and ask your parents what they think is going on. If your parents acknowledge the situation, ask what they think would be good solutions. If your parents do not recognize a problem, or shrug it off, use concrete examples to support your concerns.
Remember, you are having a conversation with an adult, not talking to a child. Patronizing speech or baby talk will only put older adults on the defensive and convey disrespect. Put yourself in your their shoes and think of how you would want to be addressed in this situation.