To help determine whether or not your aging parents ask yourself the following questions. Then, if necessary, take action so that your aging parents can address any health issues before they become worse. Taking action can help improve your aging parents quality of life and help your aging parents maintain their independence.
Have your aging parents lost weight?
Losing weight without trying could be a sign that something's wrong. For aging parents, weight loss could be related to many factors, including:
- Difficulty cooking. Your parents could be having difficulty finding the energy to cook. Your parents could also be having difficulty grasping the tools necessary to cook, or reading labels or directions on food products.
- Loss of taste or smell. Some loss of taste and smell is natural with aging, especially after age 60. In other cases, illness or medication contributes to loss of taste or smell. Your parents might not be interested in eating if food doesn't taste or smell as good as it used to.
- Underlying conditions. Sometimes weight loss is a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as dementia / Alzheimer’s , depression or cancer.
- Financial problems. Your parents could be having difficulty setting aside money to purchase food. Many parents do not want to share financial problems with their children for fear of being a burden. Food costs can be costly. Sit down with your parents and determine if money may be an issue.
- Difficulty shopping. Your parents could be having difficulty getting groceries, or may not want to carry groceries back to the house. If they no longer drive, or if their driving skills are diminishing, which may make them apprehensive about food shopping, offer to lend them a hand. There are also local resources in many areas that can help transport aging parents to stores. Other agencies also can deliver meals, such as meals on wheels when necessary.
Are your aging parents having difficulty getting around?
Pay attention to how your parents are walking. Are they reluctant or unable to walk usual distances? Is knee or hip arthritis making it difficult to get around the house? Muscle weakness, joint problems and other age-related changes can make it difficult to move around as well. Would either parent benefit from a cane or walker? If your parents are unsteady on their feet, they may be at risk of falling — a major cause of disability among older adults. A decrease in bone density contributes to falls and resultant injuries. At least one-third of all falls in the elderly involve environmental hazards in the home. Two-thirds of those who experience a fall will fall again within six months. Investigate what may ebb causing any walking or balance issues so it can be addressed.
Are your aging parents taking care of themselves?
Pay attention to your parents' appearance. Are their clothes clean? Do they appear to be taking good care of themselves? Failure to keep up with daily routines — such as bathing, doing the laundry, tooth brushing and other basic grooming — could indicate health problems such as depression, dementia, or physical impairments.
Are your aging parents in good spirits?
Note your parents' moods and ask how they're feeling. A drastically different mood or outlook could be a sign of depression or other health concerns. Also talk to your parents about their activities. Are they involved in social organizations or clubs? Have they maintained interest in hobbies and other daily activities? Are they connecting with friends? Are there any changes to their normal social routines?
Are your aging parents acting differently?
Are your parents missing activities or appointments that are out of character for them? Are they skipping medical appointments? Missing appointments and activities that they regularly never missed could be another sign of depression or other health concerns.
Is your parents house in order?
Also pay attention to your parents' home. Is their home clean? Any big changes in the way your parents do things around the house could provide clues to their health. For example, scorched pots could mean your parents are forgetting about food cooking on the stove. Piles of garbage, neglected bills could also be a sign of depression, dementia or other problems.
Are your aging parents safe in their home?
Take a look around your parents' home, keeping an eye out for any red flags. Is the bathroom safe from slips and falls? Are your parents able to read directions on medication containers? Are they taking their medication? Do your parents have difficulty navigating a narrow stairway? Has either parent fallen recently?
Taking action to safeguard your aging parents health
There are many steps you can take to ensure your aging parents' health and well-being, even if you live far away. For example:
- Share your concerns with your parents. Talk to your parents openly and honestly. Knowing that you're concerned about their health may give your parents the motivation they need to see a doctor or make other changes. Consider including other people who care about your parents in the conversation, such as other loved ones, close friends or clergy.
- Encourage regular medical checkups. If you're worried about a parent's weight loss, depressed mood or other signs and symptoms, encourage your parent to schedule a doctor's visit. You might offer to schedule the visit yourself or to accompany your parent to the doctor — or to find someone else to attend the visit. Ask about follow-up visits as well.
- Address safety issues. Point out any potential safety issues to your parents — then make a plan to address the problems. For example, perhaps your parents could use slip resistant surfaces in the bath/shower? Maybe they can use assistive devices to help them reach items on high shelves or to help them stay steady on their feet. Handlebars in the bathroom may help prevent falls.
- Contact the doctor for guidance. If your parents dismiss your concerns, you might call the doctor directly. Your insights may help the doctor understand what to look for during upcoming visits. Keep in mind that the doctor may need to verify that he or she has permission to speak with you about your parents' care. Likewise, you may need to sign a form verifying that you have your parents' permission to discuss their medical information with the doctor and his or her staff.
- Consider home care services. If your aging parents are having trouble taking care of themselves, perhaps you could hire someone to clean the house and run errands. A home health care aide could help your parents with daily activities such as bathing and dressing. You might also consider Meals On Wheels and other community services. If remaining at home is too challenging, you might suggest moving to an assisted living facility.
- Seek help from local agencies. Your local agency on aging — which you can find using the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging — can connect you with services in your parents' area. For example, the county in which your parents live may have social workers who can evaluate your parents' needs and put them in touch with pertinent services, such as home care workers and help with meals and transportation.
- Encourage your parents to socialize. Many people lose friends as their age, and their social connections diminish. Social connections are key to reducing the risk of depression, and dementia. Socializing also brings joy to people’s lives. Encourage your parents to stay socially active, attend social events, or perhaps start a new hobby.
Sometimes aging parents won't admit they need help, others do not want to be a burden, while others don't realize they need help. That's where you come in. Remind your parents that you care about them and that you want to do what's best to promote their health and well-being, both today and in the months and years to come so they can continue to live independently and enjoy life in their golden years.