Take note, baby boomers: If you think an aging parent is losing the ability to handle routine tasks, don't wait for a medical emergency. But know that older adults may not want to accept help from loved ones for fear of losing their independence.
If you believe a parent needs help for a physical or mental limitation, gently talk with him or her about getting assistance. You may need to handle your parent with kid gloves.
What problems to look for
Ability, not age, is the best way to judge whether a parent needs daily help. Watch for the following warning signs:
- Trouble with basic tasks, such as walking, dressing, eating, and cooking.
- Poor thinking skills. Does your parent get lost while driving, have trouble remembering familiar names and places, or have a hard time answering questions?
- Poor self-care, such as not bathing and looking sloppy.
- Failure to take care of responsibilities. Look for unopened mail, unpaid bills, and bank account overdrafts.
- Changes in health. Look for clues like weight loss, bladder problems, or changes in appetite.
- Increasing isolation. Has your parent lost interest in friendships, activities, or hobbies? Does he or she live alone and keep the curtains drawn?
- Changes in attitude or personality. Is your parent abusing alcohol or drugs or talking about being depressed? Does your parent seem paranoid or want to argue more?
If your parent has any of these warning signs, take him or her to the doctor. The doctor will check your parent's health. This usually will involve an evaluation for dementia.
If you live far away, it may be harder to keep tabs on your parents. Ask their friends or neighbors to keep you posted and to let you know right away if there are problems.
Taking care of your parents
Your parents will probably want to keep control over their lives for as long as possible. Involve them in decisions and ask questions about what they want. This will help to reduce their fears if they need help.
Some types of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, can be managed but not cured. Other types of dementia can be reversed or slowed with medicine.
If possible, divide up responsibilities for care among family members. Don't leave it up to one or two people. Talk to a medical social worker about community resources to help your loved one. There are also many programs and devices to help a homebound parent, including:
- Emergency-response devices, such as a bracelet or necklace equipped with a push-button radio transmitter that can be pressed when a medical problem arises.
- Postal alert. The post office can have someone contact you if the mail carrier notices mail starting to pile up.
- Social day care. Community centers and religious organizations often offer group meals, recreation, and trips for seniors.
- Adult day care. These licensed facilities care for people who can't be home alone during the day. These programs are usually staffed by health care professionals and a doctor's prescription is often required.
Churches, synagogues, hospitals, senior groups, and agencies on aging may also help you locate resources to help. Sometimes, elderly people cannot live safely on their own. In these cases, options for assisted living should be considered.
Created on 06/06/2000
Updated on 05/12/2011
- U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging. Forgetfulness: knowing when to ask for help.
- Helpguide. Adult day care centers: finding the best center for your needs.
- Helpguide. Understanding dementia: signs, symptoms, types, causes, and treatments.