If you're heading home for the holidays, watch for these key signs that your elderly parent should no longer be living alone.
Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house you go: The holidays are a time for reuniting with loved ones you perhaps haven’t seen in months. If you haven’t visited with your elderly parent in awhile, you might be shocked to find them increasingly fragile, demonstrating signs of marked decline that weren’t evident before.
In fact, the holidays and their aftermath are the busiest time of year for long-term senior care admissions, says expert Chris Orestis. “This time of year, families gather together and perhaps haven’t seen mom or dad in months,” says Chris, senior health-care advocate and CEO of Life Care Funding. “You might start to suspect that they’re no longer equipped to care for themselves.”
“Don’t Blow Off the Warning Signs”
How can you determine if your aging parent is no longer in a position to live alone? There are a number of telltale warning signs that can suggest your elderly parent requires additional assistance or care. To begin, signs of cognitive impairment—particularly, forgetfulness and confusion—are definite red flags that should never be overlooked, Chris warns. “Dementia often first manifests as forgetfulness,” he adds.
Additionally, take a look around your elderly parent’s home and assess its general appearance. “Evaluate their homes for telling visual cues of mental deterioration,” Chris says. “Are items oddly placed? Are objects where they aren’t supposed to be? Are there signs of damage or neglect to the house?” If the house isn’t as organized or tidy as it used to be, this might signal that your aging parent is no longer able to properly fulfill daily household tasks.
Lastly, be on the lookout for signs of physical deterioration, Chris says. These might include marked weakness, loss of strength and stamina, difficulty balancing or drastic weight loss. If you discern noticeable bruises, this could indicate that your aging loved one is experiencing balance or mobility issues. Lack of personal hygiene—a disheveled, unkempt appearance, for example—is another key warning.
Because living alone can pose inherent dangers for elderly individuals struggling with cognitive or physical limitations, it’s important that you identify these red flags immediately, no matter how subtle they may seem. “Never ignore a warning sign,” Chris says. “If something seems odd, don’t blow it off as, “Oh, they’re just starting to get older.’”
Create A Plan of Attack
Confronting an elderly parent about the necessity of seeking additional care can be a sticky, sensitive subject. Loss of independence is arguably one of the most feared aspects of aging, so the conversation may provoke varied reactions from your elderly loved one—resentment, anxiety or anger. That’s why it’s wise to formulate a “game plan” in advance for how to best approach this potentially delicate dialogue.
“This isn’t the type of conversation you want to just spring on your parent at the dinner table,” Chris notes. “You’ve got to make a ‘plan of attack’ first.”
First and foremost, Chris suggests, the family—the siblings, in-laws, spouses, etc.—must reach a mutual consensus that some sort of senior care is in the parent’s best interest. “Nothing will make the process more difficult than if the siblings aren’t on the same page,” Chris notes.
Once you’ve discussed the matter with siblings, it might be smart to delegate roles amongst the family. Arranging senior care can be an arduous process—with myriad logistical factors to consider—so it helps to divvy up duties accordingly. “For example, one sibling might be assigned the duty of researching different nursing home or assisted living options,” Chris says. “The other might be in charge of handling financial matters, while another might be charged with power of attorney.”
Next, you need to understand what financial resources are available to help inform what type of senior care you can afford. “Do mom and/or dad have a long-term care insurance policy? Do they have a life insurance policy? What are their savings? What do they have in the bank? Do they have annuities? What’s the situation with their home?” Chris says.
Finally, it’s time to sit down with your mother and/or father and address your concerns that it’s no longer safe for them to be living alone, based on the various clues you’ve identified. Depending on the severity of your loved one’s symptoms, you might not want to immediately introduce the notion of a nursing home or assisted living facility. “This will scare them. You want to ease them into the concept,” Chris suggests. “’Maybe it’s time to start considering bringing some extra help into the house,’ you might say.”
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of senior care, prior planning and preparation will ensure as smooth of a process as possible. Ultimately, Chris stresses the importance of adult children recognizing when it’s time for their parents to seek help. Although confronting the parent about the necessity of additional care can be a difficult and taxing experience, it’s incumbent upon the adult children to ensure that their parent is safe, healthy and comfortable.