Children of aging parents often encounter an unexpected shock when they return home for a visit after a long absence. Being alert for initial signs of deteriorating health or safety concerns can prompt appropriate interventions so Mom and Dad can remain independent in their home.
What’s going on with Mom?
It’s been six months since you’ve visited. When you arrive, warm childhood memories flood your mind, almost causing you to overlook Mom’s overgrown treasured flowerbeds, and the dents on her car. Mom’s smile is welcoming and vibrant, but something is off. A glance into the house reveals unopened stacks of mail. She’s no longer dressed meticulously, but wearing wrinkled and stained clothes. As you embrace, you note she feels thinner, and discover a fresh bruise on her arm.
She seemed fine during your phone calls.
A phone call sometimes only tells you what you want to hear. Most people don’t want to worry about possible physical or cognitive changes that can accompany aging. Often safe superficial topics and vague responses dominate the conversation.
- Ask curious questions which require more than a yes or no answer. This could alert you to changes in health or potential safety concerns before a crisis.
- Get involved in their life by discussing details of doctor visits, and what Mom likes to enjoy doing in her leisure time.
- Ask her why she no longer participates in her favorite hobby. This could be due to a change in vision, hearing, or other health concern that may need addressed.
What can you do when you can’t be there all the time?
1. Utilize Skype
- Mom & Dad get to see you, and their grandchildren, if you don’t live nearby.
- You can examine the condition of the surrounding room.
- Do Mom or Dad appear unusually fatigued?
- Ask Mom to step back so you can admire her outfit. Is it clean and appropriate?
- Vary the day of the week and the time you call. This can help determine if she can hear the phone ringing.
- Observe for cognitive changes during different times of the day.
2. Provide a neighbor with your contact information.
Ask if they’d mind stopping by occasionally to drop off Mom and Dad’s mail. This nice gesture would provide an opportunity to note anything out of character.
3. Check for local resources.
If necessary, you could utilize a calling service to phone at a designated time each day.
What to look for when you visit
Mom and Dad may have always been independent. You’ve never had to provide assistance. Making suggestions may feel awkward and could be met with denial or avoidance. Be proactive and have open conversations now to help ensure Mom and Dad remain in optimum health at home for as long as possible.
Don’t be afraid to have a conversation asking direct questions
- Where do they keep their medications? Are they organized? Can they read the label? How do they obtain prescription refills? Are there contraindications with food or other medications?
- Ask specific questions about doctor appointments.
- Devise a checklist of questions with a place to take notes to help an ailing memory, and for your reference.
- Ask what they had for dinner. Make sure dinner isn’t always cereal.
- Do they have trouble completing daily tasks? What do they struggle with most each day?
- Have they fallen? Do they have unexplained bruises or an unstable gait?
- Do they forget things or appear confused?
Look around the home as if it were your first visit
- Do they have adequate groceries or specific foods required for a special diet?
- Is their car receiving adequate maintenance? Take a ride with them to evaluate their driving skills. If they no longer drive, do they have manageable transportation?
- Study the floor for loose rugs, cords and clutter that could cause a fall.
- Examine the electrical appliances for faulty wires and make sure the smoke detectors have batteries.
Are the porch, yard and driveway free of debris?
- Check for stacks of unopened mail. Are they paying their bills correctly and on time?
Seeing some of these issues might be a sign your loved one needs a caregiver, or other help, at home.
Discuss options openly and look into resources to be prepared before the need, or a crisis, arises.
Today’s guest poster is Maureen Bonatch. She is a Freelance Writing Consultant with a background in healthcare, human resources and psychiatric nursing. She is published in paranormal romance and fantasy. Visit her website, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter. View her writing portfolio on Contently.