When I was about 25 years old, my grandmother stopped allowing her family and friends to step over the door sill into her apartment. Like the Queen’s Guard (only friendlier), my grandmother would stand at her post and block all entries to her home. She would wave off all forms of assistance with her groceries or bags.
A former Eaton’s model in the 1940s and a woman of great fortitude and independence made discussing her future care and housing options challenging for my mother and uncle.
It wasn’t until she broke her arm six months later that my mom could get her foot in the door, literally. My grandmother’s fracture led to the door being opened a small crack — just enough for mom to realize she had a crisis on her hands.
Recognizing the “signs” that your aging loved one needs more help or care than they are willing to admit to can be tricky. Is Mom’s memory loss normal or is it serious? Dad seems so frail — is he managing?
Uncertainties or lack of knowledge about the aging process makes it hard to judge whether a senior’s behaviour is normal or a cause for concern. Sometimes it’s subtle changes, such as a house slowly being neglected indicating your parents aren’t physically able to make repairs. Or you notice they become easily overwhelmed with certain aspects of daily living or are showing signs of memory loss.
One of areas we often see changes with is what we refer to as “care coordination”, meaning scheduling, organizing, and keeping on top of appointments. Maintaining one’s financial payment schedule is also an area that can mark changes in our elder’s ability.
Opening up and talking honestly to parents about touchy topics can be awkward. Most adult children want to run in the other direction.
After the fact, my mother confessed she should have kept trying to have open discussions with my grandmother. She recalls, “She was hard to talk to and it wasn’t easy for me to admit my mother was declining so quickly. She was always such a strong and independent woman.”
What Are Some Things to Look For?
One of the key bits of advice I give to clients is, “try to separate your parent from their physical and cognitive changes”. By this I mean, when assessing the situation, put on objective eyeglasses and look for factual information or clues to help you gain an accurate perspective on some of the physical, emotional or cognitive changes they are facing.
I’ve listed some of the key indicators to focus on when determining if seniors are in need of additional care or assistance. Watch for the signs is a good visual to highlight specific challenges or changes with frail aging care recipients.
- Appearance often shows if an aging loved one is being limited either physically or mentally from completing daily tasks.
- Are clothes being properly laundered? Do they look unkempt? Does Mom continue to wear makeup? When you hug your parents, do they feel frailer? What did a “sniff test” reveal?
- Listening to how an aging parent speaks and how they say it can tell you a lot about their current mental and emotional status.
- Do they call you by name? Is their language normal? Are they up on the news? Are they continuing to enjoy hobbies, social activities?
- Changes in behaviour such as a parent becoming reclusive or fearful, or a lack of motivation may indicate signs of depression or dementia. If your aging loved one show serious signs of forgetfulness that is not forgetting where the car keys are, but forgetting what the car keys are for, ensure you follow up with their physician as soon as possible.
- Spending time in their living environment can also give valuable clues.
- Does their living environment have any unpleasant odors? A bare or nearly empty fridge, spoiled foods or signs of weight loss may indicate noteworthy concerns that your parent isn’t able to eat well due to health issue or difficulty with shopping or meal preparation.
- Does your parent appear to safely move around the kitchen? Are medications being taken properly? What about the expiration dates on their pill bottles?
- Piles of unopened mail, unread newspapers and unpaid bills may be a sign that your aging loved one isn’t managing aspects of their finances due to health or cognitive issues.
Additional Resources: 5 Stages of Caregiving by Dr. Mark Frankel. Caregiver Solutions — Fall 2012. Available on-line: https://publications.caregiversolutions.ca/display_article.php?id=1239463