Signs Your Older Loved Ones May Need Your Help

Mom forgot to come over for Sunday dinner again, and you’re concerned. If she can’t remember something enjoyable, such as spending time with her grandchildren, is she overlooking mundane tasks, like taking her medicine or paying her bills?

Graddy head shot
Dr. Gwendolyn Graddy, a geriatrician and medical director of PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) Southeast Michigan.
Americans are living longer, so you aren’t the only adult child with concerns about a parent’s safety or well-being. How can you tell whether Mom or Dad’s forgetfulness is a harmless “senior moment” or a sign of a bigger problem like memory loss?

“We first approach this topic by identifying some red flags or warning signs,” says Dr. Gwendolyn Graddy, a geriatrician and medical director of PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) Southeast Michigan. “There’s a whole list of warning signs that may indicate that something is different, or a parent needs more help than they did in the past.”

Do the following situations sound familiar? If so, they may be signs your aging parent needs help. You may need to become more involved with your aging parent’s daily activities to ensure that he or she can still live independently.

Forgotten responsibilities

Have you noticed piles of unopened mail or late payment notices at your dad’s house? If he’s always been careful about bill-paying, he may need your assistance.

Missed appointments

Has your mom always attended church on Sunday but she’s stopped? “The person is missing important appointments, or they stopped doing something that was really a big part of their life,” Dr. Graddy says. “When you ask, there’s really not a good explanation why the appointments are being missed or they may hide that they missed appointments.”

Changes in cleanliness

Did your mom always keep a clean, clutter-free home until recently?

“For a person who was a meticulous housekeeper, if the house is unkempt and it may even have an odor because the garbage is not being taken out or food on the counter is spoiling, something is going on. It’s time to look for an explanation,” Dr. Graddy says.

Unhealthy eating

Does your dad’s pantry seem bare? Has he lost weight recently? Take a peek around his kitchen to see if he’s still grocery-shopping for healthy food. If your aging parent has been neglecting self-care, it may be a sign that other forgotten responsibilities have been taking place.

“There’s no fresh food in the refrigerator – everything is old and spoiled,” is an example that Dr. Graddy gives. “Dad is losing weight, and every time I come over, he is eating a candy bar or a bag of potato chips,” she says.

Worrisome cooking habits

Are there scorched pots on your mom’s stove? Burnt cookware can signal danger.

“This means they’re putting food on the stove and going someplace or going to sleep,” Dr. Graddy says. “They’re putting themselves and maybe others in harm’s way, if there’s a fire.”

What to Do

When you notice problems like forgotten responsibilities, you must intervene. Ask your parent to see a health care provider. Go along, if possible.

“When we look at this population, we ask, ‘Could this be related to dementia?’ ” Dr. Graddy says. They would need to be evaluated by a health care provider to determine that.

If your parent won’t let you go to the doctor appointment, call ahead or send a note to explain your concerns.

“I have many a daughter call before the parent gets here, saying, ‘Mom didn’t want me to come, but let me tell you what’s going on,’” Dr. Graddy says. “If the parent says, ‘I really don’t know why I’m here. I’m fine,’ and her social graces are still good, the doctor will believe her.” This is where having additional information about potential signs of memory loss from a family member is very important.

If the doctor finds a problem with memory loss, you may need to become more involved to ensure that your mom or dad can continue living at home safely. Visiting is the best way to check in.
“You can’t smell a house that smells of spoiled food on the phone nor see personal hygiene,” Dr. Graddy says. “You can’t see that there’s a stack of mail and the bills haven’t been paid until the utilities are turned off.

Parent/Child Role Reversal

For your entire life, your parents have looked out for your safety and well-being. Watching over them and assuming the role of caregiver may feel that it’s turning your relationship upside-down.
Some aging parents resist when adult children begin helping out, but others appreciate the help.

“Sometimes, the resistance is that they recognize deep within, ‘I do need more help, and I don’t want to depend on more people,’ ” Dr. Graddy says. “Other parents welcome somebody being more involved and caring for them. It makes them feel special.”

The added caregiver responsibility may feel like work, but the care you provide is a gift to your mom or dad for all the years they took care of you.

“The goal is to keep the parent in the community,” Dr. Graddy says. “Ask most adults. They want to be in their homes.”

Categories: Get To Know Your Plan

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