Aging Parents

What Your Aging Parents Aren’t Telling You — I’m Having Trouble Living Independently

“What Your Aging Parents Aren’t Telling You” by also appeared in the Huffington Post.

Just like our parents worried about us getting sick or hurt, there comes a time when we as adult children start to worry about the health of our parents. Perhaps we notice changes in their energy, memory or coordination. Maybe we see them struggling to keep up with household chores, meal preparation or personal care, like bathing or taking medication as prescribed.

At some point, health issues can make it very difficult to live alone. At the same time, our parents — like most of us — probably dread even the thought of ending up in a nursing home and instead hope to remain in their home until their last day. Throw in the concern of being a burden, and you might be the last to know how much trouble your parent is having living independently.

So what can you do if you fear your parent can no longer live by themselves? Here are a few things to consider:

1. Are my parents safe?

Your parent might be doing things differently than they did in the past, but that doesn’t always mean they can’t care for themselves. It might seem odd if your parent who for years loved to cook now prefers to eat a sandwich or heat up a microwave dinner for most meals. Or if they faithfully kept their yard mowed perfectly and now don’t mind if it gets a little long or if some weeds move into the flowerbed. Interests, energy levels, and much more can change as we age. And we adapt, sometimes changing how we do things. So instead of comparing what your parent is doing now to the way they did it in the past, it’s better to just consider whether what they are doing today poses any risk to their health or happiness.

2. What resources exist?

If you are starting to worry about whether your parent might need additional help, it never hurts to investigate how and where that help can be obtained. A good place to start is with an online search for elder care or programs for seniors. The federal government’s U.S. Administration on Aging also has set up a website to help you find services based on zip code. You can visit it by clicking here or you can also call them directly at 1-800-677-1116. AARP is also a good resource. These sites not only can help you find everything from in-home assistance to end-of-life care, but they also provide information on costs and whether financial assistance is available.

3. What is best for them?

If and when the time comes that your parent can’t live safely on their own, it is time to look closely at what is needed. If can be tempting for many of us, especially if we live faraway and can’t be there, to find a retirement community or nursing home that offers a full range of services, including meals, help with daily tasks, medication management and onsite medical care. And to be fair, that is sometimes what is needed and can be both a benefit to your parent and give you peace of mind. But sometimes less dramatic changes will work. If your parent simply can’t care for their home like they used to, would they prefer to move to a smaller place or hire someone to handle upkeep like cleaning or yard work? And if a move to assisted living is necessary, try to consider what hobbies and interests bring them joy. For example, if your parent loves to garden they might prefer a retirement community that has a plot of flowers or vegetables for residents to enjoy and care for. Or if they like to go shopping and dine out, try to find a facility that offers transportation and assistance so they can do so. Before lobbying for one alternative over another, make sure you have talked with your parent about their wishes for the future.

When the times comes, most of us don’t like to admit that we can’t do the things we used to do. Especially when it also threatens our independence and how others view us. So if your parent is struggling to live independently, they likely won’t be eager to share that information, especially with their children. By staying observant and encouraging honest conversations, however, you can help your parent get the assistance they need to live a safe and meaningful life.