What can you give an aging parent who has everything this Holiday Season? Try the “gift of paying attention”. At no cost to you, this simple and invaluable gift can bring much peace and joy to entire families. As your parents age it is inevitable that we’ll see changes in their health, their ability to care for themselves, and their cognition. For those of who see our parents infrequently, the holidays are an excellent time to pay attention and look for some of the changes that I, as a Geriatric Care Manager, often see in the aging population. Here are some light-hearted, but practical perspectives to adopt that I often find myself “coaching” children of aging parents on:
1) They smell fear. Don’t be afraid to approach them. This shouldn’t be as if you’re walking up to a ticking bomb. In some cases starting a conversation with “tell me how you have been keeping busy” is a softer approach than “are you depressed and isolating yourself from others?” As your parents age, naturally their circle of friends becomes smaller and often leads to signs of depression. If they have normally been active and social with others, and now they are not, it’s ok to ask why. Direct questions can sometimes stir up defenses and that is when aging parents tend to withdraw from the conversation. Also, if they see you walking up to them with what looks like brochures for assisted living facilities, you’re bound to relive the “switch” and “belt” days.
2) Do you hear what I hear? Listen closely to Mom and Dad when they are engaged with you. Perhaps they are having difficulty finishing sentences, or forgetting the right word for common objects such as a pen, a cup, or napkins. Do they ramble from one topic to the next, talking in circles, or become flustered when they are trying to explain something. Are you called by your siblings name or worse, some other kid’s name from the old neighborhood? These are often indicators of deficits becoming more noticeable. Either that, or they have had one cup of eggnog too many.
3) Pills? Bills? Growing up your parents likely introduced you to The Flintstones vitamins and insisted you take them. “They’re good for you” Mom would say every morning. Turn that back around and ask if they are taking their medications as prescribed. Prescription drug misuse is common amongst aging parents and it isn’t the same as when you missed a multivitamin or two as a kid. These are often vital medications that help them to remain healthy. Ask if they use a “mediset” or “Pill minder”. This is an easy to keep track of the medications. After all, “they’re good for you”. While snooping around for your Christmas presents, do you see an unreasonable amount of mail left unopened? Any 2nd, 3rd, or Final Notices found? Forgetting to pay bills can be another indicator that they are developing some cognitive impairment.
4) No veggies? No dessert. Unexpected weight loss may be a blessing to us, but for an aging parent, it can be a sign of concerns to come. Changes in cognition, depression, or other serious illness often present themselves by way of unexplained weight loss. Don’t hesitate to ask Mom or Dad the last time they weighed themselves and what that weight was. If you notice right away there has been unexplained weight loss, ask them to keep a record of what their weight has been. If there is a trend, it may help doctors understand why there is a loss.
5) “So long, farewell, adieu, adieu, adieu”. When your visit comes to an end, keep in mind that as your parents age, it becomes increasingly more important to have regular contact with them so you can notice should some of these changes present themselves. And when these changes to do get on your “radar screen” working with a care manager is a good way to gain insights into what may be affecting your parents. This allows you to have some peace of mind knowing that your aging parents have an advocate, and you have an ally.
AgingOptions™ is a professional service that provides geriatric care management services to assist you in keeping up with Mom and Dad’s well-being. Should you have questions about how I can help, please visit www.agingoptions.com where you’ll find valuable information on the services we offer. We also offer free monthly seminars that explain how AgingOptions™ has helped many families that have experienced similar issues with aging parents.
Thanks for reading and I wish you a very happy holiday ahead!!
Eric M. Crozier
Geriatric Care Manager, AgingOptions™