Becoming Your Parent’s Parent
Care and Giving
Hanging out at Taylor’s house was the best. When we were kids, her mom would bake us homemade cookies, let us stay up late watching movies and was always willing to drive us to the mall. Taylor’s mom was a vivacious, cheerful, intelligent woman — and no one ever thought that would change. Until it did.
Last year around the holidays, instead of being met with a welcoming hug, Taylor’s mom looked at me confused, as if she had never seen my face before. The light in her eyes was gone. She mumbled incoherent words and then looked away.
My friend explained that these changes started a few years ago, when her mom was having difficulties using her iPad — her favorite device that she had used multiple times a day for many years. Eventually, when Taylor’s dad said her mom was wearing the same clothes every day and engaging in other odd behaviors, Taylor knew something was wrong and jumped in to help.
It was not easy to accept that such a compassionate, independent woman now seemed to be a shell of her former self. While reflecting on Taylor’s experience, I couldn’t help but think about my own parents. Are they truthfully as healthy as they claim to be? What would I do if I noticed them acting differently?
As our loved ones get older, the risks of falling, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and other illnesses and chronic diseases increase.
Most people are very aware of their mortality by the time they hit their 30s, but some forget (or aren’t prepared) to be aware of their parents’ mortality. But there are steps we can take.
Learning more about the chronic illnesses and challenges that may affect aging adults, how to make a home safer for them, how to have a conversation with your parents about their health and what caregiving options they have will ensure that you’re well prepared if the time comes.
Determined to learn from Taylor’s experience, I educated myself about some common symptoms of illnesses related to getting older so that I could spot them as soon as possible. As our loved ones get older, the risks of falling, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and other illnesses and chronic diseases increase. The earlier a symptom is noticed and brought to a doctor’s attention, the better. Red flags may be obvious or subtle and can include any of the following:
- Declining health
- Loss of memory
- Change in personality
- Change in habits and routines
- Depressed mental state
- Bad personal hygiene
- Mobility difficulties
- Unexplained bruises or marks on the body
- Complaints of repetitive pain
- Spoiled food in the refrigerator
- Little to no home or yard maintenance
- Late payment of bills or piles of unopened mail
Make the Home Safer
One in four adults aged 65 and older falls every year. After I read this shocking statistic, it made me think of my parents and everything I could do to make their two-story house safer. Even though falling is the leading cause of fatal injury for elderly Americans, there are many ways to minimize the risk of falling and other home accidents, including:
- Clear the walkways and stairs
- Remove clutter
- Install grab bars, raised toilet, shower chair or other helpful devices in the bathroom
- Remove any rugs as they may be a tripping hazard, especially for anyone using a walker
- Repair any broken doors, loose carpet, etc.
- Ensure all rooms and hallways are well lit
- Apply nonslip wax to the floors and stairs
- Install a stair-climber
- Check all alarms in the house
- Use a monitor, app or other technology to stay connected and easily check in
Make sure you understand the amount of time, energy and resources that may go into taking care of your parents.
Know Their Personal Information
I’ll be honest. I had no idea so much information would be needed if one of my parents had a medical emergency. I would have been completely unprepared if something had happened!
If you have an open and transparent relationship with your parents, consider having a heart-to-heart talk with them about their current health statuses and what to do if one of them experiences a medical emergency. Have the information available in case of a traumatic medical event:
- Overall health: Current and prior physical and mental health conditions, medications, doctors, implanted medical devices and family medical history
- Insurance information: Medical insurance and pharmacy plan ID numbers
- Legal information: Any type of advance directives, such as a will, and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)
Figure Out How Much Help They Need
We all may want to help our parents when they’re in need, but solely taking care of an elderly parent is an enormous responsibility. Make sure you understand the amount of time, energy and other resources that would go into it. Depending upon your loved one’s diagnosis and special needs, you may have to shop for a geriatric care manager, in-home caregiver, senior community, assisted living center or hospice care. Get the ball rolling by talking to your parents and listening to their needs.
Here are some additional resources I found helpful in my own research:
2-1-1 or 855.535.5654
Planning and Preparing for the Sake of Love
While my heart breaks for Taylor, the silver lining is that her experience pushed me to educate myself and have “the talk” with my parents. As opposed to it being an awkward, doomsday-like conversation, I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable my parents were and how well they took the questions. Now we have our own roles and a solid game plan.
Suffice it to say, we all feel a lot better now!