9 family concerns about aging loved ones
Know when it's time to get help (and where to find it)
Over the holidays, families gather, and people see aging loved ones in the context of a deepening winter. Some people with senior parents may see causes for concern, and worry that it’s time to increase family caregiving or even consider home care services or assisted living. Below, we look at a variety of concerns families may encounter, with some links to solutions.
Signs of self-neglect in parents or elderly loved ones
Parents who live alone and are in isolation from others may fall into neglect of some basic care. Neglect of personal hygiene can be natural, to some degree, as people age. People simply care less what others think. But if poor hygiene becomes a noticeable, consistent issue, it can be a sign that parents are depressed, or worse, a sign of the onset of dementia. On its own, some self-neglect may not be bad, but beware of other signs of depression or dementia. Learn more about the social value of senior living and discover helpful options near you like independent living.
Mom or dad reports having had a fall
Any severe fall can be cause for grave concern. Falls by seniors are a common reason for many retirement home move-ins. And with good reason. Many homes are not well-designed for senior safety. On the other hand, retirement housing today is designed to aid mobility and accessibility. Moving into a seniors' care facility can make perfect sense, after a fall.
If the fall was less serious, you can do a number of things to improve your parents' home and help prevent future falls. Or, if you have the budget, you can even make renovations to your parents' home to design for senior safety. (See more below.) This also might be a good time to start investigating assisted living options near you.
Mom or dad's home needs updating
Basic care of the home can be difficult as your parents age. You may need to help them with things like home repairs and typical household maintenance, such as changing the lightbulbs and other basics. If your parents' home is poorly lit, or there are messy hallways, entrance ways and stairways, etc., these things can endanger your parents' safety. If your parents live in a home that has not been updated in a long time, the place can become unduly hazardous. If your parents' home is unsafe, there are simple things you can do to make it safer. For example:
- You can remove old rugs and carpeting, etc., to help make the home safer
- Add lighting where it is currently inadequate
Make changes only with the cooperation of your parents.
Mom or dad is increasingly irritable and irrational
Increasingly irrational behaviour is disconcerting, but not always a sign of dementia. Read more about Sundown Syndrome, for example, which is often — though not always — associated with Alzheimer's Disease.
Mom or dad is getting increasingly forgetful
Memory loss is another relative issue. Some memory loss can be a simple sign of aging. If memory loss is limited to forgetting some words, losing car keys or forgetting small appointments, this may not be cause for concern. If you tell your parents something important one day and they forget it the very next this may be more serious. Other more concerning issues related to memory loss are getting lost in neighbourhoods they should know well and forgetting very common words. If mom or dad is losing weight (and there is no other explanation for this), this may be a sign that they are, in fact, forgetting to eat. We go into more detail about manifestations of memory loss and when you should be concerned.
Mom or dad lives in vulnerable circumstances
Perhaps they live in an area with a rising crime rate, or they are all alone and have, in fact, been victimised. If your parents live in a neighbourhood where they are vulnerable to crime, or if they have indeed been scammed online, at the door or elsewhere, this may be reason for considering a change. When people move into the secure, safe environment of an independent living retirement home, they and their children find great relief.
Parents seem to be having difficulty "getting around"
As early as 2012, 33% of the population 65 and over had some form of disability, while 67% of those 75 years and older "cannot walk or require mechanical support or a wheelchair or help from other people to get around"1.
Some short term helps include retrofitting homes to improve mobility. This has pros and cons, the biggest disadvantage being the cost, of course. Most aging Canadians do want to remain in their own home and age in place: over 85% according to the CMHC. Learn more about mobility support for seniors.
Increased indications of loneliness and social isolation
Loneliness is an ineffable quality not necessarily equated with living alone, although there are obvious connections between those two ideas. Elderly loved ones who suffer from loneliness may share this with you outright, or it may be obvious to you. Some people of an older generation, though, may cling to a stubborn sense of self-reliance or independence, while suffering in silence. You can get a sense of their loneliness through indications of increased neediness or comments they make. Listen to family members who are sensitive to this or who have professional expertise in this area. Loneliness is a great health risk.
Read a fuller treatment of the effects of loneliness on seniors, and stories from nonagenarians about the deeply personal effects of widowhood. Adult day programs may be some help, but in our experience, there is nothing more beneficial than moving into a healthy, vibrant seniors community to completely turn around a loved one’s outlook on life and on themselves.
Concerns about elderly loved one's driving
Driving is a challenge for older adults, and many seniors cling strongly to the independence that driving affords. It's another very difficult topic to discuss with your aging relatives, one that can quickly degenerate, if you say the wrong thing. However, winter is not the right time to push limits in this respect.
In the province of Ontario it is necessary for drivers 80 and older to complete screening exercises that test their cognitive abilities. Other provinces have some safeguards also, which helps take the onus off family.
This is not an issue to be taken lightly, certainly, as tragedies have certainly taken place with senior drivers behind the wheel. It is possible to help your parents give up driving, but this is not easy.
Concerns at any time of the year
At any time of the year, elderly loved ones may undergo difficult changes. Here's a quick glance, with some worthwhile solutions.
Mom or dad gets sick
If your mom or dad has a temporary yet potentially serious health problem (e.g. a serious infection), and they want to remain at home, hiring a private caregiver is a worthy option.
There are other cases where you may want to safeguard your parents' health with the strategic use of private health care. For example, in the case of recovery from surgery, many people avail themselves of a short term stay in a care home.
More serious illness
If mom or dad has been diagnosed with a degenerative illness such as Parkinson's or any other serious illness (including Alzheimer's and other dementias), this will change all of your lives. Memory care facilities should be part of your plan as the disease progresses.
Other serious sicknesses such as cancer, heart disease or lung disease are grave concerns, of course. Aside from hospitalization and other health care attention, you may want to check into the availability of home health care to facilitate ongoing health improvements. In recovery from a medical procedure, some retirement homes offer convalescent care as a bridge between hospitalization and a return home.
Over the years, we have covered other concerns adult children may have about their aging parents. These include:
1"Housing for Older Canadians." cmhc-schl.gc.ca