How will I know when my parents need help?

    If you’re a son or daughter with aging parents, you might have noticed a gradual shift in who’s taking care of whom. There are signs, both obvious and subtle, that your parents are ready for assistance beyond what the family can provide. But what should you look for?

     

    This is part of a series on aging in the Delaware Valley called “Gray Matters: New Tools for Growing Older” from the WHYY Health and Science Desk. The six-week series will feature audio and video stories as well as personal essays.

     If you’re a son or daughter with aging parents, you might have noticed a gradual shift in who’s taking care of whom. There are signs, both obvious and subtle, that your parents are ready for assistance beyond what the family can provide. But what should you look for? Here’s a list that may help:

    Home cleanliness: Do you notice that things are piling up in a normally tidy environment? Can you see dust and dirt or notice a musty smell? If the home is messier or dirtier than usual, it could mean that the cleaning equipment is too heavy for Mom or Dad. It can also show a loss of interest or energy, or a ‘why bother with it?’ attitude.

    Personal hygiene: When older adults stop bathing, it’s possible that they are afraid to get in and out of the shower. Or, they might not realize they need to bathe because their sense of smell and vision are diminished. Maybe their energy level is too low to take on the laundry. Or, they just might not notice when clothes are dirty or stained. Whether they’re afraid of a bathroom fall or believe that changing the sheets is too taxing, or unnecessary every week like it used to be, intervention will keep them safer and feeling better about themselves.

    Full (or empty) cupboards: Check out the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. Is there healthy food available? Is there an abundance of food, including the supplies you brought with you last week? If so, your parent might be stockpiling food. Older people often don’t have an appetite or they don’t have the energy to cook, opting for an egg or peanut butter crackers rather than a balanced meal. This impacts nutrition, leaving them vulnerable to illness. It’s important to eat well to stay healthy.

    Alternatively, if you see that the cupboards are empty, there might be a transportation problem, or a financial one. Are they paying for medicine and scrimping on food? In each of these cases, it may be time to provide some help to ensure that your parents get balanced meals to bolster their health.

    Judgment: Does it take Mom longer than she estimates to get ready for the day? Maybe she’s not sleeping at night and is so tired in the morning that it takes her a long time to get up and dressed. She misjudges the time it takes her to get ready to leave the house and misses appointments.

    Caregiver fatigue: If your loved one cares for an older spouse or sibling or an adult child, watch for signs of weariness. Often wives who care for ailing husbands are physically and emotionally exhausted from managing the lion’s share of decisions and household chores. Older husbands who take on responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning tire from the new tasks. Even healthy, younger adults caring for elders can be worn by managing their parents’ lives and their own.

    Remember, your parents might not be able to do it all themselves anymore. Chances are you can’t fill the gap all by yourself. Getting extra help at home may keep your mom and dad independent and safe in their home, which is where they want to be.

    Home support services provide services to help individuals stay independent as long as possible. Services can include personal hygiene assistance, safety with ambulation and mobility, meal preparation and assistance with eating, companionship, light housekeeping and more. The initial evaluation is completed by a registered nurse, and subsequent services are overseen by a nurse.

    Kim Fitzsimmons is Director of Operations at Holy Redeemer Support at Home, which provides flexible, personalized assistance, supervised by a registered nurse, to meet the unique needs of homebound individuals and their families.

    “How do I know if my parents need help?” was originally published, in longer form, in Senior Parents Place.

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