How to Know Your Aging Parents Need Help (When They Insist Everything's Fine)
Your mom dried your tears and bandaged your knees many times when you were a child. Somehow, her comforting touch always made you feel better. Your dad patiently taught you how to drive, all the while never showing that he was terrified. Today, you look back on these memories with fondness and a bit of sadness. Now that your parents have reached old age, it's you that helps your mom feel better and drives your dad to appointments. Your life as a family has come full circle.
Why Your Parents May Refuse Offers of Help
Because your mother and father have been self-reliant all of their adult lives, it can be hard for them to admit they need help with everyday activities like grooming, taking medication, and shopping. Often times, they don't realize it themselves even when it's painfully obvious to you and others.
If you ask your parents if they need help, they are likely to dismiss your concerns by insisting that they can care for themselves. While this can be frustrating, remember that they aren't deliberately trying to cause you stress. Pride, denial, not wanting to worry you, and fear of having to move out of their own home all play a role in refusing help when it's offered.
Clues That Mom and Dad May Need Some Extra Help
When your parent or other elderly relative insists that everything is fine, it's important to switch your tactic from asking questions to observing. The person who can't come right out and say "I'm confused a lot" or "I can't manage my bills anymore" usually gives clues as to what is really going on. Your mother, father, or both of them may be a good candidate for home health care or assisted living if several of the following occur on a regular basis:
- Your parent displays confusion or uncertainty when faced with tasks that were once familiar to him or her. For example, your mother may have forgotten how to write a shopping list for the grocery store or your father suddenly has no idea how to balance the checkbook. This confusion can extend to forgetting important appointments.
- Your mom or dad wears dirty clothes, has an unpleasant odor, or fails to handle normal grooming tasks like combing hair and brushing teeth. While forgetfulness is sometimes the reason for this, the lack of attention to hygiene could also stem from physical frailty.
- You notice that one or both of your parents have difficulty with balance. Getting up from a seated position seems difficult, as does walking a straight line unaided.
- There is spoiled food in your parents' refrigerator because they forgot to throw away items past the expiration date. You may also notice a lack of food because going to the grocery store seems like too much effort.
- You don't recognize your mom or dad's personality anymore. Your outgoing mother who used to have many interests now seems listless and depressed. Your father is irritable and snaps at people often, especially concerned family members.
- Your parents' home is dirty and cluttered, both of which are uncharacteristic for them. There is no sense of organization in the home and bills may sit on the counter unpaid.
Even if you notice several of these things, your parents will probably not take too kindly to you pointing them out. The key to gaining their cooperation is to express how much you love them and that you are concerned for their well-being. Never confront or act exasperated as that will put them on the defense. Instead, recommend an outside evaluation from a neutral third party. You will get less push-back if you give them as much control over the process as possible considering their challenges.
Your local county health department should have numerous resources available for seniors and their families. This is a good place to start to get leads on agencies that can do the evaluation. Assure your mom or dad that you are not putting them in a nursing home but rather just want to see them get the help they need. Even if you’re helping them a lot already, you can’t do everything yourself.
My Mother's Story
After my stepfather died in 2011, it was clear that my mother was not happy living alone. At 77, she could still take care of herself fairly well, although she had given up driving. My siblings and I eventually got her to agree to move into a senior high-rise residence. She did not need assisted living, but the option was there if she ever needed it. We felt she would benefit from the companionship of other residents and the many scheduled activities. That is exactly what happened.
The only services our mom ever received included weekly cleaning and emergency nursing care if she needed it. With five adult children living within an hour's radius, we rotated taking her to appointments and taking care of other tasks that needed to be done. She died suddenly of a stroke on June 3, 2015, at the age of 81. We miss her dearly, but we have no regrets about her final years. She was happy, engaged in her community, and surrounded by loving friends and family.
© 2016 Lisa Kroulik