As we all grow older many things change in our lives. Some changes are sudden, like an unexpected fall that breaks a bone or simply shakes confidence in one’s balance. Others occur gradually, like loss of hearing or reduced flexibility. These changes may impact one’s ability to live independently while keeping up with the daily tasks that used to be simple and routine.
If you have aging parents, over time, you might have begun to notice little changes that make you or others wonder if your parents need help. These gradual changes are easily missed, especially if you live locally and see your aging parents regularly. When your brother from out of town asks when Dad stopped doing yardwork, or why your mom never seems to cook anymore, you might be caught off guard.
Betsy certainly experienced this when she would go to visit with her mother with months in between visits. In Sarah’s last few years Betsy expressed concerns to her brother about her mother’s increasing difficulty with getting out of her recliner and walking to the bathroom. He came by almost every evening after work to check on their mom, but he usually arrived during Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune, when she was sitting in her recliner. He rarely saw her get up until Betsy expressed her concerns, and then he got Home Health involved. The therapy she received kept Sarah walking for several more years than she might have had.
If both spouses are still in the home, you should know that spouses tend to cover for one another when one begins to slow down physically or mentally. The healthier partner may protect the other by doing more of the cooking or housework, or they might even make excuses. “Your dad is just waiting for better weather to get to the yard work; those old bones get cold this time of year!” A friend shared that when her husband and father-in-law went out of town for the weekend she was left in charge of her mother-in-law. During those few days she was shocked to learn that her mother-in-law could no longer tell time, turn on the stove, or even bathe herself. When the men returned from their weekend the family had a quick meeting and got help for their aging parents.
Many people in their 70’s and 80’s begin to need help long before care is needed, and a little help will go a long way to keep your parents living independently while staying safe and healthy. The important thing is to start the conversation before those needs get too far along. Next week we’ll talk about questions to ask as you explore options for finding the help that is needed.
Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about wondering if your parents need help.