Torn between the desire to respect our parents’ autonomy and wanting to encourage them to get the help they need when necessary, it is reasonable to wonder, for example, if a change in their lifestyle or appearance should be considered normal or alarming. Here are six questions you might find helpful in determining whether an adjustment is in order to help them maintain their independence.
1. Are your parents taking care of themselves? Are they neglecting their appearance or that of their home, compared to past years? If you observe any notable changes in their routine, begin by broaching the subject openly with your parents in order to suggest a medical check-up or some type of assistance at home.
2. Everyone has occasional lapses in memory, and they can become more frequent as we age. However, there is a difference between normal changes and those associated with dementia, as seen in Alzheimer’s disease. If your parents forget common words when they speak, get lost in their own neighbourhood or are unable to follow simple directions, it’s time to take an appointment with a doctor.
3. Is it still reasonable for your parents to be driving? If they become confused, or you feel concerned about their safety behind the wheel, it may be time to find another mode of transportation.
4. Unexplained weight loss maybe a sign that something is amiss. A doctor’s visit is in order.
5. Are your parents in good spirits? A drastically different mood could be a sign of depression or of other health concerns. Also talk to your parents about their activities. Are they still seeing their friends? Are they still practicing their hobbies and community activities? If not, it may be advisable to discuss the matter with their family physician or to look into helping them take part in activities they enjoy.
6. Are your parents able to get safely around? If your parents are having difficulty walking due to pain or muscle weakness, it may be possible to do something to give them renewed confidence and avoid falls, while staying active.
Even if you live far away, the first step in supporting your parents is to share your concerns with them while reassuring them that you’ll be there to help. Other ways of supporting them are to encourage them to see their doctor regularly, and to accept help for household chores or in installing assistive devices in their home.