How to recognize when your parents can no longer look after themselves.
My best friend here where I live has been struggling with the fact that his own parents are ageing and showing the signs of soon no longer being able to take care of themselves.
That got me to thinking about this problem and finding benchmarks that we should be looking for if we find ourselves looking after our parents as they age and may not be able to see these things for themselves. So I looked up a number of sources and came up with the following benchmarks in no particular order:
How are your parents feeling emotionally? Have you seen a mood change? Have they stopped seeing friends and being involved as they used to be? Have they stopped doing the things they enjoyed? Could they be slipping into depression?
What is their memory like? I’m not talking about the minor memory losses everyone experiences, but are they forgetting to complete a sentence, do they get lost in the neighborhood?
Do they fail to recognize family or friends?
How are they at taking care of themselves? Have you noticed a drop in their hygiene?
Are they still bathing, brushing their teeth, and combing their hair? Are they changing their clothes?
Is the house clean? Are dishes being done after meals?
Have they lost a lot of weight without undertaking an exercise and diet program? Are they still cooking? Can they taste and smell?
Are your parents still getting around? Can they still walk as before? Are they falling? Can they still drive? Can they see? Can they hear?
Are they safe in their own home or where they are? Are their stairs or steps they can’t negotiate? Are there the appropriate fixtures that make bathing and other activities safe? Do they need a ramp up to their door? Can they open doors?
Do they show signs of abuse? Are there bruises in various stages of healing? Are they afraid of anyone? Have they been injured, but refuse to talk about it?
These and other signs can be signs of disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, and other things But separately or together they may be signs that you need to talk with your parents or their health care provider about further tests and evaluations. What can you do if you do suspect that your parents are becoming a danger to themselves?
First and foremost is to talk with your folks and let them know about your concerns. Remember you are now treading on very sensitive ground. You may be opening an area that can be frightening to them as they face the loss of freedom and eventually their mortality. You may want to have others involved sometime (other family members, close friends, clergy) if you can do so without looking like you are ganging up on them. Encourage them to get an outside opinion from their physician.
Secondly, see if there are things you can do to affect their environment. Can you add railings where needed, get them walkers, change sinks and toilets to be accessible? Can you hire a housekeeper or home health aide to keep them in their home? Do they need a landscaping service? If they will need to move, can you do some research and find a few facilities to visit with them so they can make an informed choice?
Thirdly, explore the community resources available to them. Is there a senior services or council on ageing nearby? Is Meals on Wheels available? What does the local place of worship do for the elderly?
Fourthly, does your parents’ physician know of your observations and concerns? There are confidentiality issues that may prevent the physician from disclosing things to you, but you can make your own concerns known to him or her.
Remember that your parents may resent knowing they are reaching a diminished capacity to take care of themselves, or they may be unaware of the changes in their lives and their need for various areas of assistance. What they need to be assured is that you love them and want to preserve their lifestyle as well as their health and safety.
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