Dad accidentally backed his car into a pole at the grocery store. Mom bounced a check. Your favorite aunt hasn’t visited the doctor for a checkup in a decade, and she’s 80 years old.
Sometimes the first step toward getting help for parents or other aging family members isn’t convincing them to move to a new place.
Often, it’s the adult kids and younger relatives coming to terms with the fact their loved ones aren’t the same people they were 30 years ago.
“I knew I would regret it later if I didn’t step in,” says Candice Bennett, who moved her mother from Florida to Virginia in order for her mom to live closer as she aged.
People change slowly. It’s easy to overlook these changes when they develop, over time, into a big deal. It also is tough to come to terms with seeing the people who raised us—serving as as our guidance and strength—now facing a role reversal.
But ignoring or refusing to acknowledge the changes can lead to larger issues down the line.
How do you know if it’s time for you to have a talk with your aging mom or dad? Watch out for the following signs.
Not taking care of themselves
A stain or two may not be a big deal, but if your parents’ outfits always seem a bit unkempt, the dryer hasn’t been used in weeks or you’re not sure the last time they showered, they could need more help than they let on.
An inability to care for themselves doesn’t have to mean dementia. It just means they may be having a hard time physically getting through their once-normal routines.
We all lose our keys on occasion, and absent-mindedness can have more to do with personality than age.
But missing common words in basic conversation, becoming easily confused by directions, or simply forgetting things more than usual can signal a larger problem. These changes can creep up slowly.
We all have our moments, but forgetting to go grocery shopping or spending hours looking for keys could mean something else is going on.
These may not feel like a big deal, and a bump in a parking lot may simply be the result of a poorly placed grocery cart.
But if Dad has to repair his car yet again—or backs into things that 10 years ago he never would have hit—this could signify a larger problem.
Perhaps Mom isn’t telling you what’s going on, but the car has scratches and dents. How is their eyesight? How are their reflexes?
Just as you don’t notice the subtle changes over time, they may not either.
The lawn that your dad always mowed has become overgrown. The sidewalk never gets shoveled. The trash doesn’t get taken out. The groceries don’t always get put away.
You can come up with your own list of things your parents used to do, but now they let go. Incomplete chores could simply be a routine sign of aging, but that doesn’t make it easier to admit for your parents.
Mowing, for example, is a major physical endeavor; your parents could simply need a neighborhood teen to come on occasion, but making that phone call could feel overwhelming.
Perhaps it’s time to bring in a housecleaner to help out. In more extreme cases, these are signs of depression; they also can signal deteriorating physical abilities.
You notice a pile of unpaid bills gathering dust on the counter, or 800 numbers calling the house at odd hours—these could be collection agencies or a bank.
Either way, money matters slip through the cracks. Your parents could even be the target of scams. Solutions could be as simple as helping your parents set up automatic bill payments via an online bank account.
They could be too embarrassed to ask for help, so you’ll have to inquire gently.
How to proceed
These are the keys: changes in things they could or would do before but don’t now.
This doesn’t mean that conversations about moving into a senior living facility are imminent. It just might mean that you and your parents discuss hiring someone to help out around the house a little more.
You can make an effort to check in more and start exploring if they can still handle the big family home—or if they should consider an apartment with some assistance attached.
Maybe you all sit down and discuss the future; just remember, a difficult talk now could keep larger problems at bay.
Read the rest of our 7-Step Guide to Senior Housing:
1. Recognize If Your Parents Need a Change
2. Learn About Types of Senior Living Communities
3. Assess Your Financial Options
4. Tour Senior Living Communities
5. Know These Senior Housing Lease Clauses
6. Make a Senior Housing Community Feel Like Home
7. Manage the Emotional Toll of a Parent’s Move