If you’re worried about an aging parent, you’re not alone. It is very typical for people to resist giving up their independence as they age, even as they begin to rely more heavily on their children and family members for support. But at what point do you need to be concerned for their safety?
And when it comes time for them to move to a more supportive facility, how will you approach that conversation?
First, let’s talk about the warning signs. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers recommends things you should be watching for:
- House: Does the house look maintained, or is it in disrepair? Is dust accumulating? Is trash piling up?
- Eating Habits: Open the refrigerator door. Does it contain adequate food, and can you spot any spoiled items? Pay attention to changes in eating habits, weight loss and lack of appetite.
- Interaction/Behavior: Some behavior changes are noticeable, like asking the same questions repeatedly. But don’t forget to look for the subtler signs: Is your parent able to carry on an extended conversation? Does he or she refuse suggestions or just agree with everything said?
- Forgetfulness: Look for stacks of unopened mail or newspapers, unpaid bills, unfilled prescriptions or missed appointment notices.
- Personal hygiene: Signs to look for: Lack of shaving, infrequent showering, dirty clothes, unmaintained hair and visible injuries.
Starting the Conversation
If you start seeing any of the above signs that your parents are having difficulty making decisions, then it’s time for a conversation. The earlier you do this, the better. The last thing you want is to have to make rushed decisions in a crisis.
Remember that this should not only be a conversation about where your parents want to live, but also about how they will pay for care, which can be expensive. Have the difficult discussion about their wishes concerning medical treatment and end-of-life care. If something life-threatening were to occur, how aggressively would they want to be treated?
One way to start the conversation is by talking about your own situation: For instance, talk about the powers of attorney you’ve established so that your own spouse can make financial or health decisions on your behalf if you’re ever in a situation where you can’t make your own. Then ask your parents if they have anything similar. Or mention an article you’ve recently read (such as this one) about the importance of getting your parents’ personal finance information in case they ever need help managing their money.
Next week, we’ll cover the legal and financial information you should ask your parents for.