I've discussed this topic before, but it is becoming more important in an aging society. As our parents age their physical deterioration may be obvious, but it is easy to ignore, or for them to hide, mental deterioration. So, how do you as a child assess whether your parent needs help? There are some obvious signs to take note of. Is a once tidy house now neglected or unclean? Is there hoarding? Is mail lying around unopened? Does the house smell as if someone is trying to cover up an unpleasant odor? These are just a few things that may give you a clue that some intervention is needed.
The real problem is how to get your parent to accept your help or that of a trained professional. Many older people become suspicious of their children's motives. Others are unwilling to admit that their mental abilities are failing. I always suggest that children take the same approach I take with my clients – matter-of-fact and diplomatic. First, sit down with your parents and ask if they have everything in order. They will ask, “what do you mean” and you can respond, “Well mom and dad, if anything were to happen to you, what am I supposed to do?” The purpose of this discussion is to help them realize that you are still relying on them, not the other way around. Usually, this gets them to think they should make plans so as not to burden you. These plans should include health care directives, powers of attorney and wills and/or trusts. But they also include planning for major health events – medical, nursing, institutional.
Most people don't plan for future medical and residential needs. If you notice physical or mental deterioration, it is important for you and your parents to plan. Once again, let them know that planning by them will be a relief to you. I rarely run into a client who tells me they don't care about their children and the burden making these difficult decisions will be on them. The real obstacle to planning is knowing where to start. If your parent has confided in you his or her medical condition, it becomes much easier for you to help them plan. For example, if your parent is suffering from early dementia or Alzheimer's you can start by contacting the local Alzheimer's Association Chapter. You can also contact the Area Agency on Aging (www.n4a.org), veterans resource centers or your local senior citizens organization. The National Council on Aging can also help you determine benefits for which your parents may be eligible. I also recommend you contact a geriatric care manager who can help locate additional resources and act as a buffer between you and your parents, if necessary. You can find a local care manager through the National Association of Care Managers (www.caremanagers.org). Other resources are available at Elder Care Matters (www.eldercarematters.com).
Whatever your parents needs are now or in the future, take the time to discuss their needs. Let them know you care and by putting a plan in place now, they are giving you the greatest gift of all – relief.