Aging parents? What to look out for and what to do next

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It starts with a gut feeling. Then you notice your parents are doing things differently. Perhaps they’ve experienced a string of minor incidents, or their typically tidy appearance has slipped.

You’re already being pulled in two different directions, with your kids’ needs on the one hand, work demands on the other when suddenly you notice your aging parents need support too. Signs could include:

  • Repeated incidents around the home, such as the door left unlocked or burnt pots and pans.
  • Minor car accidents.
  • Changes in appearance, weight loss or gain, disinterest in food.
  • Changes in mood or behavior.
  • Missed appointments.
  • Overdue bills and notices.
  • Missed medication or double doses taken. 
  • Repeated questions or sentences.
  • Disorientation in familiar places.
  • Confusion or struggle to follow simple instructions.
  • A fall.

While we can all forget the odd face or phone number, a few of these signs recurring might warrant further investigation, especially when the pattern is unusual for your parent. 

If you’re concerned about your aging parents’ possible decline in physical or cognitive abilities, it’s a good idea to take action steps early so you can work together to create a care plan.

Consult with your siblings

Share observations with your siblings and voice your concerns. It’s likely they’ve noticed changes too and want to address any issues.

Talk to your parents sensitively

Be mindful that your parents might not be aware of any change to their behavior nor be willing to accept it. They may also be fearful of what these changes mean, and fear can lead to defensive behaviors. It’s important to approach any conversations gently, with compassion and without judgment. 

Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if a colleague approached you to point out a decline in your work or that they noticed you were slowing down? Ensure your parents understand the problems and include them in deciding solutions or decisions that affect them. Make sure they don’t feel powerless as you move forward to provide care.

Note key areas of support

Is home maintenance being neglected? Personal hygiene? Health and medical needs? Keep an eye out for specific areas of neglect, and ask family and friends to help identify problem areas. Then, respectfully raise these concerns with your parents and talk through solutions while assuring them you’re on their side and that everyone needs support sometimes. Remind them of the countless ways they’ve helped you and ease any guilt they may be feeling by insisting that this is what family members do for one another. No guilt allowed.

Offer help

Offering your parents help sooner rather than later could be the key to them taking up your offer before you need to take control. Parents might find it easier to accept small gestures of help if they see they aren’t adding exponentially to your overflowing to-do list. 

Attending doctor’s appointments, paying bills, preparing meals, or arranging transport to events and classes are some ways you can become more involved. If your parents won’t accept help, give them time to come around if assistance is not needed urgently, or ask other family members or healthcare professionals to help guide the conversations and ease their fears.

Check in

In many instances, a phone call makes a big difference and can be all that’s needed to brighten your mother’s mood or ensure your father is taking his medication. If it helps, set yourself reminders to check in. You may also want to turn to technology, as many apps, in-home cameras, and emergency devices can help you monitor your loved one’s safety even while you’re at work.

Employ help

If you’re working and caring for children, you might have limited capacity to offer hands-on help to your parents. Prioritizing what is needed and organizing a roster of care services or family members will help you keep up. If you can afford paid help, it may be worth exploring further to take pressure off yourself and your siblings. If you are lucky enough to have them, you can ask your siblings to contribute financially.

Keeping them social and active

Ongoing physical and social activity is essential to good physical and cognitive health. Talk to your parents about the hobbies and social activities they enjoy, and encourage them to keep them up.  

Investigate support groups, age-appropriate exercise classes, activities, and outings. Many educational institutions offer free or inexpensive classes for seniors, from learning to paint, playing the piano or studying ancient history. Many church groups have opportunities for them to engage socially. And don’t forget many communities fund free classes for seniors through their local councils.

Get an aged or health care assessment

If your parent is in poor health or has a physical or mental impairment, you might need to start preparing them for respite or long-term care. Speak to your parent’s health care provider to seek out an evaluation of your parents’ abilities and needs.  

Discovering that your aging parents need help can be stressful both for you and for them. Voicing your concerns can be a difficult conversation to have, but it’s one worth having sooner rather than later.

In 2015, there were 2.1 billion people in need of care; by 2030, the number of care recipients is predicted to reach 2.3 billion. The estimated annual value of unpaid care and domestic work is $10.8 trillion globally.

The reality is every person at some time in their life will either become a caregiver or need to be cared for. Creating a caregiver-friendly workplace is essential yet surprisingly nascent in practice.  

Download this caregiving framework here to learn ‘what great looks like’ when it comes to supporting caregivers, and how your organization can drive positive experiences and outcomes for everyone involved.

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