How Do I Know if My Elderly Parents Need Help?

By Kate Fallon, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Ageless Journeys. Kate also teaches the Savvy Caregiver program at Southern Maine Agency on Aging.

Senior couple

Even if you don’t have children of your own, it isn’t hard to imagine how difficult it can be to ask your children for help. Parents spend many years raising and nurturing children, providing physical, financial and emotional support out of love and devotion. When people age and begin to need assistance, asking for help requires a bit of pride swallowing.
It’s hard enough to ask, but reaching out to your own offspring may feel counterintuitive, almost against the laws of nature. As you watch your parents start to struggle, it’s important to maintain a sense of balance and priorities. What can you really control? Your parents are still adults who have the right to make their own choices, even if those choices are upsetting to you. But you can control which battles you choose, and how you communicate.

Keep in mind that you may need to talk about their needing help many times before they acquiesce, and ultimately your job may be to coordinate other people coming in, rather then providing the assistance yourself. Your relationship will help dictate the boundaries on your direct caregiving.

Signs that a parent may be struggling

  • Piles of unopened mail
  • Refrigerator: Not enough food, rotting food, odd food choices
  • More disorder in their space than is typical
  • Lack of cleanliness: How is the bathroom? The kitchen?
  • Lack of personal cleanliness: Are they bathing? Is their hair clean?
  • Car trouble: Tickets, scratches or dents in vehicle
  • Listen to what they say. Are they remarking about trouble with cooking, laundry, driving, shopping? Even if it is to complain about something outside themselves.
  • Do they seem to be having trouble with their memory, judgment, organizational skills, reasoning?
  • Have they lost interest in doing things they usually enjoy?

There may be a variety of reasons for any of these issues, but they all warrant discussion and likely also a visit to the doctor to ensure there isn’t something going on that is easily treated, like an infection. Be gentle in your approach, and allow them some time to respond. If at first you don’t succeed, have the discussion again and again. Consider how you would want someone to approach you — a kinder, more collaborative approach may be received better than telling them they must get help. This can be a frightening and frustrating time for everyone. The key is to be clear that you are focused on doing your best to keep them home and safe.

Don’t let worrying threaten your own health and well-being

And what about you? Have a plan for your own self-care around this. Fretting about your parents endlessly may be easy to do, but it will exhaust you. Set boundaries, give yourself time off from worrying and allow others to help you too. Learn to recognize what you can control. Learning to accept what you can’t change is tough, but will leave you feeling less frustrated. Talk to others who can help you, whether it is with an agency for informational resources, support from a group, or accessing some short-term therapy to help you cope. We are at a place where people can live a long time with chronic illness. If you are a caregiver, it is a lengthy journey. Be sure you take care of your own health and well-being along the way.

A note from Diane

In her next post, Kate will talk about the guilt and the grief that can go along with caregiving. Do have any advice to share about caring for parents or someone else? Do you have a question you’d like to ask Kate? Use the comment box below or send me an email. Thank you.

 

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane Atwood was the health reporter on News Center 6. She's now a regular guest on the Morning Report. Before she became a health reporter, Diane was a radiation therapist/dosimetrist at Maine Medical Center. In 2000, she left the world of reporting to manage marketing and public relations for Mercy Hospital. In 2011, she decided to pursue a longtime dream of being a freelance writer and launched her award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.