If you have an older parent, this routine probably sounds familiar: You call your parents, ask how they’re doing. They reassure you that they’re fine, just fine, but when you hang up, you have an uneasy feeling. Are they really fine? Or do they just not want you to worry?
So, what do you do? And how do you know when it’s time for supportive services?
Step one is straightforward. Observe. You know what normal behavior looks like for your parent. Is it changing? Is your mother forgetting to pay bills? Is your father not going to his weekly lunch with friends? Have they stopped tending the garden that they’ve loved for so long?
As an article at AARP.com cautions, not every change means danger, but it’s important to understand why a shift occurred. Fortunately, AARP also provides a comprehensive list of signs to watch for, including physical signs, mental health ones, hygiene and more.
Physical Observations to Make
Here are just three things to monitor; note that most can’t be monitored via a phone call or email.
- Is your parent gaining or losing weight quickly?
- How steady is he or she when walking?
- Does your parent complain of pain?
Pay attention to medications and how well your parent is managing them. Can he or she remember to take them when needed and as directed? Can they avoid interactions? Is he or she clear about the purpose of the medications and what changes they are supposed to effect?
Mental Health Observations to Make
- Does your parent experience mood swings? This can include rage or hostility, but isn’t necessarily limited to those.
- Have you noticed your parent forgetting more often, or even wandering off?
- Is he or she losing interest in reading, writing and otherwise communicating?
Appearance and Hygiene Observations to Make
- Is he or she appropriately dressed for weather conditions (considering how your parent typically dresses for a particular type of weather)?
- Are clothes clean?
- Is his or her hair combed?
Daily Living Observations to Make
- Can your parent bathe and dress without problems?
- Can he or she get out of a chair and walk to the bathroom? Use the toilet and take a shower or bath?
- Can your parent cook meals, and do housework and yardwork?
After making these observations, what do you think? Could a caregiver help?
An article in US News lists additional clues that indicate your parents may need a caregiver:
- Mail piles up and isn’t taken indoor—or it piles up on a table
- Car doors have scrapes, indicating minor driving accidents that they aren’t discussing
- Pots and pans are charred, and burn marks are seen on the stove and/or countertops
- Expired food in the refrigerator may indicate less regular grocery shopping and may interfere with good nutrition
- Prescriptions aren’t filled or the bottles are chaotically arranged
- Your parent has bruises, perhaps from falls or bumping into furniture
If you still aren’t sure how well your parents are doing—especially if you don’t live nearby and don’t see them regularly—ask the neighbors. They often know about falls and other incidents that your parents may be reluctant to discuss with you.
Ask to accompany them to doctor appointments. Listen carefully, read between the lines and be willing to ask tough questions.