Nobody wants to think of our parents or other loved ones coming to an age where they can no longer make wise decisions or care for themselves. We often think of our parents as all knowing. For many of us, our parents are the people we contact when we need advice, a safe place to vent or a place for to go when we need to feel their unconditional love. Knowing the signs that your aging family member may need help, not only assists them, it can ease your mind as well.

What Are the Signs of Aging?

Although everyone ages at a different pace, we all decline in our mental and physical functioning over the years. Parents will often attempt to hide signs of aging but there are things you can do to be prepared for that. Let’s use an example to walk through how to prepare.

Sam is a healthy 78 year old man who lives alone. He walks daily around his neighborhood and he maintains a garden during the warm months. His gardening is his passion. One of his daughters lives about 30 minutes away and visits every Sunday for dinner.

Sam and his daughter work together to prepare their Sunday dinner. They use his fresh vegetables for salads and in their cooked meals. Over the past two months, his daughter has noticed that he wants to “change things up” and asks her to bring a salad from the store. When asked about his garden, Sam says he didn’t have any good veggies. On one occasion, Sam had forgotten it was Sunday when his daughter arrived and said he got his days mixed up.

Sam’s neighbor pulls his daughter over one Sunday afternoon and mentions that she misses seeing Sam on their daily walks around the neighborhood. Clearly unaware that her father was no longer doing his daily walks, she asked how long it had been since he had stopped walking. The neighbor replied that it had been about 6 months or more. The neighbor also mentioned that she sure missed Sam’s prize winning tomatoes as well and tells her that Sam hasn’t been working down in his garden for a couple of months.

Over Sunday dinner, Sam’s daughter asks about the walks. Sam dismisses it stating that the neighbor was “annoying” so he stopping going. She then asks about the garden and why he never mentioned that he stopped working in his garden. She is careful on how she questions her Dad. Sam, clearly annoyed at this point, asks her to mind her own business. He leaves the dinner without eating. His daughter is at a loss for words by this reaction. She decides it’s time for her to do some investigating, but where does she start?

The Signs of Aging

Sam’s example above is very common. The following are warning signs that your aging family member may need help. Intervention may be necessary.

  • The refrigerator has spoiled food or is empty (indicating they can no longer go to the store or may have trouble preparing their food.)
  • They are suddenly very strict with routines when they have never been (indicating that they are afraid they will forget something)
  • They no longer shower or bathe, when these things were once very important  (this is an indication that they are struggling to take care of their physical health)
  • Their bills are overdue or unopened (they are losing their ability to manage their finances)
  • Their medication bottles are either empty or out of date (indicating they may have stopped taking medications as prescribed)
  • They no longer show interest in going places they once enjoyed (indicating a fear of confusion)

How do you learn about these things without alienating your loved one?

The following are just sample suggestions. Each person’s situation is unique. You will need to give thought to what works for you and your family member.

  1. Observe meal times. Spend more time around them during meal times when they normally prepare food. This will allow you to see if they are still capable of planning or making their meals.
  2. Observe medications. Pay close attention to whether they are taking their medications on time, and as prescribed. Many of our older family members can harm themselves unintentionally simply by taking too much, skipping their medicines or not taking them as prescribed.
  3. Offer to go for a walk or other daily exercise with them (if this was their normal routine) and try to establish it as a new normal. For example, Sam can start coming to her Dad’s home earlier each Sunday so they can take a walk together before they begin their kitchen prep. This will allow her to gauge his behavior about the request, during the walk and how he responds physically after the walk. (Did he agree to go? Was he unusually out of breath and needed to return home earlier than in recent past? Did he have any pain during the walk?)

Waiting until the situation becomes serious can often leave us with less options. Planning ahead helps you cope with the emotions of seeing a loved one’s health decline as it begins to happen. It will help you see the signs that your aging family member may need help. It also provides a roadmap with strategies so that you aren’t panicking in an emergency.

How Do You Plan?

Although you can do simple things such as those we have outlined above, we recommend a much more comprehensive plan. A comprehensive plan will cover the pre-planning phase and the crisis management phase. After all, each person and each situation is unique. Your family dynamic may be nothing like our example above. However, Jason is accustomed to crisis matters and will work with the family and/or caregivers to determine appropriate options available to the loved ones. Contact Jason to start your plan now.