How Do I Help My Parent as They Age? 

It’s not always easy to watch your parent age. You may wonder when to step in and help them make difficult decisions like moving to a senior living community. It can be especially hard when you live far away. A phone call may not be enough to get an honest assessment of their needs or quality of life. 

Remember, no matter how old you or your parent gets, they will always think of you as the child they want to protect from embarrassing or unpleasant things.

Signs an Aging Parent Needs Help

It may take a little detective work and a lot of patience to learn what your parent needs. It’s easy to confuse the warning signs of real problems with the normal challenges of getting older. 

The National Institute on Aging suggests making an extended visit if possible. Mom or Dad may sound enthusiastic on the phone because they’re happy to hear from you and don’t want to discuss anything negative, but that enthusiasm could be masking more serious issues.

Some of the warning signs of self-neglect include:

  • Confusion
  • Hoarding behavior
  • Poor hygiene habits
  • Not cooking meals or poor appetite
  • Not taking medications on schedule
  • Neglected house or yard maintenance
  • Not keeping medical appointments or refusing to seek treatment when needed

If you recognize any of these warning signs, it may be time to intercede. Start by checking in frequently. If you can’t visit them in person, find another friend or family member who can. You may get a better idea of their needs through the eyes of a third party.

How to Help

You and your parent may have different ideas about what’s best for them. Take the time to have a heart-to-heart conversation about their needs, but don’t focus on what’s “wrong” with their current situation. Instead, talk to them about their hobbies and interests and their desires for more social activity. 

Letting them know your goal is to help them create a happier life may help your parent be more receptive to accepting assistance. You may feel a certain urgency to get your parent into a better situation, but unless their health or safety is at risk, resign yourself to moving at their pace.

Call Frequently

In her research, psychotherapist Christina Steinorth found the number one thing parents wanted from their children was to hear from them more often. If you can’t pop in for regular visits, be sure to call often. Consider setting a reminder on your phone so you don’t forget about that daily or weekly phone call.

Talk to Your Siblings

Communication among family members is crucial when a parent needs help. Make sure all the key people have the same information you have and that everyone is on the same page when it comes to making big changes in your parent’s life. When the family is united, a parent is more likely to agree with suggestions that involve their care. 

Be an Advocate

You can’t advocate for your parent if you don’t know what they want or need. Go to their medical appointments with them to get a clear picture of their medical requirements. 

Your parent may be willing to grant specific or general powers of attorney to you if they’re having a hard time handling their financial affairs. It might also be helpful to become an official healthcare surrogate. 

The best time to talk about these issues is when your parent is still healthy and active, but many families don’t have these difficult conversations until the need is urgent. 

It may feel invasive to discuss finances or medical situations, but keep in mind that your parent might feel relieved knowing their interests will be protected no matter what the future holds.

Find a New Home

Moving into a senior living or skilled nursing community is a big change for both your parent and you. However, a move to the right community provides a number of benefits. 

Not only will your parent be safe and secure in their new home, but the various social activities, community outings, and special events could also enrich their lives in ways they never imagined. 

Stay positive about the possibility of moving to senior living, and your parent will be more likely to stay positive too.