Right now, your gut may be telling you something is amiss with one or both of your parents. Feelings of frustration, panic, and being overwhelmed accompany these thoughts, and before long, your head begins to spin with the thoughts of "Where do I begin?" and "What if …?" You need to decide right now that you will actively manage this challenge rather than being passive and letting it manage you.
We see the early signs of aging and tend to ignore them for a lot of reasons. For one thing, we do not like to think about our parents growing old. We get stuck with this image of them, maybe right after retirement, when they're happy, full of life, and enjoying the freedom of not having to work. We also have an uncanny sense of knowing our place. For all our lives, our parents were the ones teaching us, nurturing us, helping us when we got in a jam, and telling us what to do. It just does not feel right to tell mom she needs to clean out her refrigerator more often.
We also ignore these early signs of our parents' aging because they cause us to think the unthinkable: our parents can not live forever. This alone is a choking thought and certainly one to bring tears to anyone's eyes. The first thing you can do to prepare for the inevitable is to pay attention to the early signs of aging and illness.
What are those early signs? Basically, any change you notice in your parents' behavior, attitudes, and surroundings can be an indicator. Forgetfulness is one of the most common symptoms of the aging process, and by itself it is no real cause for concern. But there are other signs to notice:
- Declining mobility Common ailments such as arthritis coupled with a loss of physical strength will make it hard for your parents to climb stairs, bend over and pick things up, perform household chores, and pursue hobbies that once were able to do.
- Vision problems This is usually evidenced by difficulties in reading, sitting closer to the television than normal, a loss of peripheral vision or blurry vision, and squinting when they talk to you.
- Loss of interest in favorite hobbies Your mom, who has sewn all her life, has not touched the sewing machine in months. Your dad seldom fusses in his garden anymore.
- Irritability A once gregarious and fun-loving parent rarely laughs and gets irritated and impatient easily.
- Hearing loss You have to repeat yourself often or notice that the television volume is consistently loud. Your parent is often reluctant to admit there's a problem or to seek help.
- Confusion Older people often misplace things or lose track of which day of the week it is.
- Repetition Your parents tell the same story within a short time period.
- Short-term memory loss Your mom forgers the boiling water on the stove. Your dad can not remember what day of the week it is.
- Fatigue Your parent tires easily, needs to sit down and rest in the middle of an activity, nods off during the day, and sleeps more often and longer than usual.
- Unopened mail It is not unusual for an older person who is struggling or having difficulty to let the mail pile up, often for weeks.
- Changes in the home environment The house begins to look shabby. The yard becomes overgrown. The house has more clutter than usual. Simple maintenance tasks are left undone, such as cleaning the bathroom or emptying the trash, and there are strange odors in the house.
- Unusual spending and / or hoarding (collecting) you notice strange financial habits, especially ordering products from infomercials or an increase in the amount of magazine subscriptions.
- Preoccupation with finances Your mom expresses concerns about money. Your dad complains more than usual about prices, taxes, and so on.
- Change in appetite or not eating well Your parents appear to be losing weight or not eating well. Their kitchen cabinets are crammed with out-of-date canned goods or perhaps only boxes of cereal and crackers.
- Staying alone, isolation Your parents used to enjoy visiting friends, but they just make excuses and stay home alone, watching television or staring out the window.
- Depression or anxiety
- Bruising from stumbles or falls
What should you do if you notice any of these signs of aging in your parents? Let's begin with what you should not do, and that's overreact. The most common – and unhelpful – form of overreaction is to nag your parents about these things. That will only make the situation worse.
Most people react to these signs of aging by either forcing the issue with their parents or ignoring it. Do not try to fix it. Do not nag. Yet do not ignore these signs either. Just pay attention. Begin keeping a diary or log and write down what you notice. By paying attention and keeping a record, you will be able to objectively determine if these behaviors are occurring infrequently and then are not really troubling, or if they are getting worse and may need intervention.
The second thing you should do when you notice these signs is to begin to think about the future. This is one of the hardest things for Boomers to do. No one likes to anticipate the inevitable. Deep down, we know no one lives forever and ever our parents will pass on. But who likes to think about that? Yet I have found that when my clients allow them to think a few years ahead, they are much better prepared for the day when all they have left is their parents' empty house. Being in denial will help no one, least of all your parents. Dont 'wait to deal with these issues until a moment of crisis.
What do you do now?
- Begin a diary. Record any unusual or alarming behavior that you notice in your parents.
- Call or visit your parents. From now on, pay specific attention to your parents' health and well-being. While you're at it, tell them you love them. There's no time like the present.
- Begin a conversation with your siblings. Gently and tactfully raise the issue of your parents' future.
copyright 2010, The Estate Lady, LLC.