The holiday season is upon us and with the arrival of cooler weather comes visits from adult children and grandchildren, ready to spend time with aging parents and continue family traditions. But there are also some adult children who are unable to make the trip for a variety of reasons and learn about the challenges their parents are experiencing from other family members or siblings who were able to schedule a quick visit.
While some families are living in a multigenerational household for caregiving reasons, others are unable to make the move to be closer to family, leaving them to be caregivers from a distance. With a large percentage of the U.S. population moving into old age, this can be challenging for adult children trying to manage the care of an aging parent – or even understand the daily realities of an aging loved one.
As an adult child of an aging parent, how do you know when your parent(s) need help? How do you help without taking over? What if they say they don’t need help? Wow, someone should write a book about helping aging parents!
Great Books About Helping Aging Parents
Along with great books about aging parents, there are local resources to help seniors with various tasks and matters of aging. There is no shame in asking for help from professionals in the matters of aging. But how do you know when it is time to have that chat? Is there a clear sign and, if so, what are you looking for? While life is not always cut and dry, here are a few signs to look for (and it’s never too early to start a conversation about an aging plan).
7 Signs Your Parents Need Help
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Poor personal hygiene
- Missing important appointments
- Confusion when performing familiar tasks
- Feeling depressed or having little to no energy
- Mood changes or extreme mood swings
- Bounced checks, collection calls, late payment notices
1. They used to have a bustling social life and now your aging parents rarely leave the house.
If your parents had an active social life and now rarely leave the house, that could be a sign something is amiss. It could also just be a natural slowdown due to the challenges of old age. Getting out and about can be stressful, especially when they still drive themselves to social engagements.
What if they were never social butterflies during their younger years? They still had interests that kept them busy and engaged. Did Dad enjoy puttering around the garage? Maybe Mom had a small garden she tended to regularly? Do they still express interest in those things, even though they may not do them as much anymore?
Either way, if social habits have changed, it’s a conversation starter.
- “Hey dad, you still going to bocce at the Italian Club? How’s that going?”
- “Mom, what book is your book club reading? I’m looking for a good read.”
- “Hey mom, how is your garden doing? You growing anything new this season?”
- “Hey dad, you still getting around in the garage? Can I help move anything to make it easier for you?”
2. The personal hygiene and condition of aging parents clothes aren’t up to their usual standards.
Poor hygiene is an area of concern that can send conversations in several different directions. Are they aware of their hygiene decline but keeping up with laundry and bathing chores have become physically difficult? Are they fearful of falling in the shower and giving themselves a “bird bath” to avoid a potentially dangerous situation? Or are they completely unaware of the decline?
Understanding the reason behind the change is important in finding a solution. When poor hygiene is wrapped up in overwhelming tasks or fear of falling, it is a good time to introduce having help come into the home. Or, if they are open to it, a move to a senior living facility to reduce some of the stress they are experiencing with activities of daily living.
3. They are missing important appointments.
Keeping up with appointments can be hard at any age. If your aging parent is struggling with appointments after implementing reminder systems like a calendar or a personal phone call to remind them, it’s time to investigate the root cause. Is it memory, disorganization, or transportation? Depending on the cause, there can be a variety of solutions an adult child can offer.
“I couldn’t find my calendar anywhere, so I missed my appointment.”
Solution: Magnetic Calendar for Refrigerator
“Why are you calling me? I don’t have an appointment.”
Solution: Private caregiver for day of appointment and a case manager to attend, gather important information, and follow up as needed
“Driving to the doctor terrifies me. The traffic is terrible.”
Solution: Private caregiver or transport service for appointments. A case manager can facilitate transportation and track appointments.
4. Aging parents appear confused when performing regular tasks.
If your loved one is struggling with simple tasks like working the microwave or using the phone, these are signs that should be addressed. The inability to perform basic functions could signal cognitive decline, depression, or a treatable infection among other things. An evaluation by their physician is a good start, but these challenges could also be a sign of compromised safety awareness and need prompt attention. The solution can be as simple as engaging your loved one in Occupational Therapy to establish new routines and renew confidence or start a conversation involving more help in the home.
- “Hey mom, if you needed help, who would you call? Can you show me how you would do that?”
- “Dad, are microwave meals easy for you to prepare? Can you show me how you get your dinner together?”
5. They appear or sound depressed and show little to no energy in their response.
You may notice during phone calls that your parents don’t respond with the same enthusiasm to stories about their grandchildren. Maybe they aren’t following the storyline or are just uninterested which is not their usual reaction. Depression is a struggle for some seniors as they age – isolated from family, unable to get around like they used to, and not getting the spark they used to from personal pursuits.
A full evaluation from a physician is an important appointment to schedule. If you are far away and unable to attend to these signs in person, a case manager can be an ideal “boots on the ground” member of your parents’ aging team – helping them through these challenges and keeping you informed. Depression is treatable when addressed early and is often the precursor for more challenges to come.
6. You are noticing more mood changes or extreme mood swings.
With physical and cognitive decline comes increased frustration. It is hard to not be able to do the things you used to do, and you can’t find the words to express your frustration. While the moods may be understandable, it is important to address the changes that are bringing on the mood swings and help alleviate frustration. It may be time to discuss in-home care or a move to senior living – or it can be as simple as regular oversight from a mobile medical provider who can come to the home and develop a care plan to address any medical issues.
7. It may be harder to discover, but bounced checks, collection calls, and late notices are a sign.
If you are fortunate enough to have an open relationship with your parents, they may share that they are having difficulty keeping up with bill-paying tasks. Or they may call you when their electricity is shut off and they have no idea why. Financial signs are often a bit harder to detect for the adult child trying to manage care from far away. Aging parents may be embarrassed that they are experiencing these problems and don’t want to ask for help.
Financial signs are an immediate red flag and must be addressed promptly. This is where an aging plan that includes a durable power of attorney will make life easier – for a distant adult child or one that lives nearby. Without the authority to access accounts or ask questions on behalf of your aging parents, you are limited in what you can do.
To resolve any of these seven situations, having an aging plan that includes a durable power of attorney is essential. While some of these signs may be part of normal aging and corrected with medical attention or additional help in the home, cognitive decline may not be reversible and leave you with insurmountable challenges. Especially if there is not a durable power of attorney executed while your aging parent is still capable.
Do I Need a Case Manager or a Guardian?
If you get an aging plan together that includes a durable power of attorney, you can avoid the expensive and often emotionally exhausting process of guardianship. For a senior who wants to remain independent, a durable power of attorney is the best way to accomplish that goal. When the senior assigns power of attorney to a person who is familiar their wishes, they can have confidence that person will act on their behalf when they are no longer able.
Guardianship is not the end of the world. However, it can be avoided when families communicate and establish a plan for aging, clarifying roles and wishes. A family member or a professional guardian can be assigned by the court to oversee a senior who did not communicate, and document, an aging plan. (If you think having a conversation with your parents is hard, try adding a few attorneys, a judge, and an incapacity committee to the discussion!)
Professional Guardians are a Resource We Love because they are often assigned to pick up the pieces of a family that has failed to communicate. They spend their days trying to resolve issues and find solutions to challenges that have festered for years and now demand an immediate answer. Compassionate caregivers and problem solvers at heart, guardians collaborate with local professionals and families to find the best solutions for the individuals entrusted to their care. Learn more about Guardians in the Legal and Financial Section of our Blog.