There are some great articles on the web that can give you information about what signs to look for to tell you if your parent needs more help. Next Avenue and A Place for Mom are two that have good information. Common items are:
- Difficulty with Activities of Daily Living
(often referred to as ADLs)
- Home maintenance and cleaning
- Running errands
- Frequent Falls
- Driving difficulty
- Look for dings on the car
- Traffic violations
- Limiting driving – if this is unusual
- Social Isolation
- Missed appointments
- Getting lost
- Trouble recalling routines
- Not taking medications properly
- Emergency room visits or increase in frequency
- Money management issues – if this is out of the
- Missed bills
- Missing money
The Changes are the Key!
We can all be forgetful, or go through periods of withdrawal, or fall or any of the above things. But it is the change in behavior, change in patterns that is the key. And as we age, it is normal and natural that some things take more time or effort. My grandfather who lived to be 99 once told me, “My decades are starting to blend together.”
I get that! I’m only in my fifties, and when someone says the 1980’s are old or retro, I think, “that was last week!”
So pay attention and start noticing. Look for patterns, and look for changes in patterns or behavior. Be aware that new patterns or behaviors are not in and of themselves harmful or suspicious, however. Change is also a good thing. Learning new things is great for our brains, after all. But consider if the change is enhancing everyday life, or limiting it. Is the change to avoid a necessary or vital activity, such as socializing, or is it detracting from it.
You May Not Be the First to Notice
Also – you may not be the best person to notice. Sorry to tell you this, but you may be biased and make excuses for your parent. You aren’t biased because you are stupid or unable to make good judgments. You may be a bit biased due to confirmation bias.
What’s confirmation bias? That’s when we are directly influenced by the desire of our beliefs. We want something to be true, or we don’t want it to be true. So when we have a lot at stake emotionally – like with our kids or with our parents or other loved ones – we don’t always see what others see. We see what our desires want us to see, and we don’t see what doesn’t match our desires. We may actually be in denial because we don’t want to see it.
Again – not because we are stupid. It’s because we are human.
So what can we do?
I suggest talking to others. Talk to siblings, if this is productive. But also talk to others who are not as emotionally attached. Talk to neighbors. Not gossiping, but check in with them. Get to know friends of your parents, and maybe ask if they notice anything out of the ordinary. Let them know you are willing to hear from them. People want to help others. More than we think, really. But a lot of people stand on ceremony, and consider talking to an adult child of a neighbor as being unfaithful to their friend. They might feel it is “not their place.” Let them know you care about your parent, and that they can call you if they are aware of emergencies and other concerns.
Do your parents have regular cleaners or hired help? If it is a service and different people come each time, then these are the people to ask. But if your parent has a weekly or monthly cleaner, this person will likely notice changes in needs.
My parents’ neighbors and friends were so helpful to me in this way. I definitely did not want to see how impaired my parents were becoming. When a neighbor called to tell me that the garbage cans were forgotten now and then, I listened. When I took my Mom to her friend’s 75th birthday, she pulled me aside at one point and shared concerns about my mother’s memory and how she had stopped coming to their book club. My aunt called to tell me she was concerned about my mother’s memory. All of these people helped me to see what I didn’t want to see, even though I visited my parents a couple of times a week.
It is also helpful to get a professional evaluation from a geriatric case management team. If your parent has a long-term health insurance plan this may be paid for under the plan. Check with your parent’s doctor – a physician may be able to give you some information about services within the medical plan, or direct you to who might know more. You can also hire a Geriatric Case Manager. There are more and more people heading to this profession. Also search for Healthcare Advocate – these professionals can also lend support and guidance.
When To Start?
Probably now. Sorry! But if you are going to take on supporting your parent or parents in some capacity, it is never too late to start taking notice of patterns of behavior. If you get a sense of what is happening when things seem normal and healthy, then it is likely you will notice changes later. In Case Management, we call this getting a baseline. You don’t have to take data like a researcher. But start to notice daily routines. What are your parents hobbies, social habits, basic home care routines?
Take some time to reach out to neighbors, if possible. Do you know your parents’ friends? If you are comfortable – trade phone numbers. Like I said – most people want to help, but they often don’t know how to help or who to contact.
Our goal in all of this is to be able to best support our parents. Their habits will naturally change over time. Most of those changes will makes sense in some way. But if something seems, well, weird, then it probably is. But check it out with someone else. Look for changes in routines and patterns. It may be strange, but when we are closest to someone, we don’t always notice what’s under our noses.
Do you recall that old adage about raising children, “It takes a village?” I think it takes a village to care for each other, as well. Start building your village!
Was this helpful? Are you noticing changes in your parents’ needs and routines? What is working for you?