If you’re in your 30s or 40s, you’re probably taking care of your career, your kids, and your retirement fund; taking care of your parents may be the furthest thing from your mind.
But if you don’t start thinking about it now, you might just miss the signs that a parent can no longer accomplish the activities of daily living (ADLs) without assistance. ADLs include routine activities such as eating, bathing, and using the bathroom. Because the inability to perform ADLs is a key predictor for nursing home admission, you don’t want to ignore these signs.
Here are twelve issues to watch for that could signal your parents need help.
1. Unexplained Weight Loss
Some people naturally lose weight as they age. If you notice your mom getting thinner, ask if she is eating less–and, if so, why. If the weight loss is unintentional, encourage her to talk to her physician.
2. Dirty Hair or Lack of Basic Hygiene
Arthritis or general muscle weakness may make it difficult for an older person to shampoo hair or shower easily. Regardless of the cause, dirty hair or obvious signs someone isn’t bathing regularly warrant a closer look.
3. Issues with Dressing
Maybe Dad mis-buttoned his sweater for the umpteenth time. Perhaps Mom has been wearing the same skirt for three days in a row. If your normally natty parents begin to look disheveled, it’s time to look closer at their ability dress themselves.
4. Problems with Transferring
“Transferring” refers to the ability to move your body from one object or position to another. For example, if your mom has trouble swinging her legs out of bed and standing up, that’s a transferring problem. For some, the first sign they’ve been having trouble transferring occurs when they find themselves unable to get up off the toilet. Problems with transferring can lead to a fall, so you should monitor these signs closely and intervene before a catastrophe occurs.
5. Frequent Falls
Falls can be caused by many things, from a simple stumble to an ear infection. And since we all fall from time to time, a one-time fall may not be cause for vigilance. However, if your parent experiences several falls in succession, it’s time to investigate further.
6. Decline in Housekeeping
We’re not talking about a little dust on the TV. We’re talking about clear signs the house isn’t being cleaned regularly–dirty bathrooms, dirty dishes always piled up in the sink, trash not being taken to the curb–any noticeable but significant changes in how your parent typically tends to household chores.
7. Personality Changes
If your mother used to be bubbly but now seems sullen most of the time, or if your normally taciturn father turns into a party animal, that loss of inhibition can signal impending memory problems.
8. Patterns of Forgetfulness
People fear forgetfulness because it’s so closely associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. However, experiencing occasional memory lapses is normal as we age. The key is to look for patterns of forgetfulness with your parent. Does Dad always forget his Wednesday night card game lately? Does Mom constantly ask when her favorite TV show starts its new season, even though you’ve told her a dozen times? These symptoms warrant investigation by a doctor for possible diagnosis.
9. Repeating Things in Conversation
Again, we all do this from time to time. In a person with memory issues, repeating things in conversation will happen frequently and often without the person realizing they already said something once (or more). If your parent often repeats the same news multiple times without acknowledging it, you should seek medical attention for him or her.
10. Forgetting to Take Medications
This could be a sign of memory issues, or it may simply signal that your parent feels overwhelmed by his or her medication schedule. Try to find out what’s going on so you can help.
11. Lapses in Home Safety
Leaving the stove on. Putting metal containers in the microwave. Leaving a fire unattended in the fireplace while taking a trip to the grocery store. Each of these examples points not only to forgetfulness, but to an inability to live safely without supervision. Serious safety lapses clearly require immediate intervention, such as bringing in home caregivers or considering a move to an assisted living facility.
12. An Incapacitating Medical Crisis
Even a temporary incapacitation counts. Ideally, you can intervene with your parents before something dire occurs. However, many adult children experience their first taste of caregiving due to a medical crisis with their parents. Crisis management is never the ideal way to become involved with your parents’ health and wellness.
If you want your parents to age well so they can enjoy their retirement (and their grandkids), don’t wait until you start seeing the signs outlined in this article to start a conversation about assisted care.