When you ask people where they want to live as they age, as AARP did in this 2018 survey, an overwhelming number – 76 percent – give the expected answer: they want to remain in their own home. A similar number say, even if they can’t keep the same house, they want to stay in the same community. But for many aging adults, that’s simply not realistic. How is an adult son or daughter supposed to know when it’s unsafe for mom or dad to keep living in their own home?
Your Aging Parent May Not Want to Tell You the Whole Story
We found some very helpful and fairly simple answers in this 2019 article from the Considerable website, which we first brought to your attention here on the AgingOptions blog last spring. In the article, author Julie Halpert tells of a New Jersey woman whose 87-year-old legally-blind mother lives by herself an hour away. The problem is, mom refuses to move to assisted living because she has a noisy dog, the kind most care facilities do not accept.
The daughter is in a conundrum that millions like her are facing: how do you honor an aging parent’s independence if you’re concerned for their safety? “You may struggle with the question of whether your parents are actually capable of living independently, and if so, for how long,” Halpert writes. Sadly, the aging parent will seldom be the most objective source for information, because they fear that if they disclose actual problems they’ll be forced to move. As one social worker told Halpert, “It is quite common for an elderly person to deny the need for help or represent to others that they are doing well and managing.”
If Your Aging Parent Won’t Tell You, Look for These Warning Signs
So, if the parent won’t give reliable information, and there’s no one else who can accurately describe how well mom or dad is coping, is there a way you as a caring son or daughter can ascertain what’s really going on? The article on the Considerable.com website says yes. “Especially if you don’t live close by, you need to be on alert for the signs your elderly love one isn’t coping well,” and if you can’t travel there yourself, you may need to enlist the help of a trusted family member or friend to undertake a “scouting mission” for you. Here are some specific things the article suggests you or a friend may want to look for on your next visit.
Is Your Aging Parent Increasingly Disorganized or Isolated?
- Disorganization: This can be a telltale sign of deeper problems, especially if your parent has always been neat, organized and tidy. “Does the house seem more cluttered than normal? Are there stacks of unopened mail? Often, early dementia or depression brings an inability to manage daily tasks, like banking, medication or meal preparation.” Sometimes the first warning signs are missed doctor appointments and social engagements. This neglectful or forgetful behavior can serve as a warning that, for your parent, continuing to live along at home may no longer be wise.
- Isolation: This may require some digging on your part, the article suggests. Instead of casually asking what your parent has been up to, get more specific. “Ask your parent about his calendar and who he’s seen lately,” Halpert writes. “If you sense that he’s isolated and has lost interest in engaging in life outside the home, that’s a cause for concern.”
Does Your Aging Parent Show Signs of Unexplained Weight Loss or Frequent Falls?
- Weight Loss: Several studies have shown a connection between unexplained weight loss and early stages of dementia. Perhaps more common among seniors, weight loss can be a sign of depression. In any case, weight loss can be a warning that something else is going on that requires attention and possible intervention, says the article.
- Falling: Falling is a major problem for seniors, especially those living alone, as they grow older and frailer. According to a 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 25 percent of people 65 and older report falling each year, and roughly three million wind up in the emergency room. Regular falling may indicate problems with mobility and balance that can lead to serious injury, even death. The CDC reports that nearly 30,000 seniors died from falls in 2016.
Your Aging Parent: What to Do Next
As we said above, if a regular personal visit to your aging loved one is impossible, you do have other options. “Don’t live in easy visiting distance?” asks Julie Halpert. “Reach out to people in your parents’ community. Friends, neighbors, and those in their place of worship, can be your eyes and ears.” A next-door neighbor will notice uncollected mail, piled up newspapers, flyers left at the door, or an untended lawn. The local police and fire departments may also be able to assist. “Many local law enforcement offices have programs to regularly check in on the well-being of older adults in the communities they serve,” the article suggests.
The article at Considerable.com offers a few ideas on what to do next if you’re worried that the home has become an unsafe place for an aging parent. You can try to improve home safety by getting rid of slippery throw rugs, installing grab handles, adding better lighting, and replacing hard to grip door latches and hard to reach light switches and outlets. Digital technology like fall-sensing smart watches, automatic medication dispensers, and connected lights and appliances activated by voice command can help. You can also hire a geriatric care manager to help assess your parents’ situation and prepare a caregiving plan. Contact us at Aging Options and we can assist you in finding the right professional to advise you.
Your Own Plan for Your Future as You Age
Here at AgingOptions we think the issue of where and how to live safely at home requires careful planning. You may want to begin by holding a family conference in which everyone’s roles and expectations regarding the care of mom or dad are clearly spelled out. There are steps you need to take to protect your aging loved one, and we urge you to contact us so we can review some of these safeguards with you.
But what about your own future? Have you planned carefully for how (and where) you want to live as you age? A truly comprehensive plan for your retirement future also needs to help ensure that you’re making the right financial choices, that you and your estate are well-protected legally, that you have the right kind of medical insurance, and that your family is supportive of your desires as you age. The only retirement planning tool we know of that does all this is a LifePlan from AgingOptions, and if you’ll invest just a little bit of your time, Rajiv Nagaich will gladly show you the power of this retirement planning breakthrough.
Come join Rajiv at a free LifePlanning seminar at a location and time that works for you. You’ll find a complete calendar of currently-scheduled seminars on our Live Events page, where you can register for the LifePlanning Seminar of your choice. Age on!
(originally reported at www.considerable.com)