Keeping Elderly Parents Safe – Part I
More and more we hear about Baby Boomers who find themselves at a loss when one of their parents (or both) exhibits signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease and obviously needs assistance. But they’ve always been independent… They live by themselves… In a big house… And they tell you everything’s just fine… And fiercely defend their independence when the subject comes up.
I’m one of those Baby Boomers. I hope that by sharing my experiences handling my beloved parents’ situation will help those of you who find yourselves in a similar situation. There’s a lot of information here so I’ve divided this blog into three parts, one part each day.
Complicating my situation were these facts: a) I’m an only child and, b) I live 1000 miles away from my parents. You may think that only children would be close enough to her parents that she could talk frankly to them about personal things, but that was not the case with me. I had to open that door very carefully.
My parents, who grew up during the Great Depression, were taught by their parents to be independent, work hard, save money, family was all-important, and to take care of themselves. They were healthy with only the usual aging problems like hypertension, arthritis, and cholesterol. They did many activities outside the home, went outside every day, divvied up the chores of keeping house, and never acted old. When the trouble began, Mom was 82 and Dad 84, but neither one looked their age.
In 2009, I noticed that my mother kept repeating herself during our phone calls 90 percent of the time; she asked the same questions over and over, and could not remember the answers 5 minutes later. For my dad’s part, he laughingly told me that one day he had driven out of the grocery store parking lot, turned the wrong way and didn’t realize it for 10 miles. He had no idea what happened. He went for a checkup by his doctor, who laughed it off.
Then in the fall, my dad called to say that they could not make their annual trip to Florida for Christmas to visit the grandchildren and me. My dad said at the time, “You can only do what you can do.”
I didn’t know it then, but this was a BIG SIGN that something was very wrong.
Seeing For Myself
When I visited my parents the following summer I was shocked to find that Mom had stopped coloring her hair and visiting the hairdresser. Her hair was long and unkempt. She also wore the same clothes over and over and she had bad breath. But she still made the beds every day, read the newspaper (although I don’t think she was really reading) and was pleasantly talkative and could make conversation. When I asked her (privately) why she’d stopped coloring her hair, she said it was too much bother. This sounded like a reasonable explanation to me. (Later, I figured out that she could no longer follow the step-by-step instructions.)
So, I screwed up my courage and managed to have “the talk” with my parents. You know, the one where you get their opinions and plans for when they can no longer care for themselves. I asked them very gently what their plans were in case they became physically incapacitated and needed care. They told me their plan was to stay in their house, which was a large one-story rambler, and hire “help” to come in as they needed it. My parents had no alternative plan like a retirement village or assisted living facility such as those their friends went to, although my father had piles and piles of brochures.
Their plans would have been fine if Mom hadn’t been visited by dementia, what Dad referred to as her “little memory problem.”
You see, my dad was covering up what really was going on at home. He didn’t want people, even his daughter, to know that things had radically changed; my mom was no longer able to handle the finances; she had left stove burners on; she couldn’t make a grocery list; she’d forget to eat; she was no longer taking her meds. All the chores had fallen to Dad. He was bringing home take-out every night for dinner; groceries were spoiling in the refrigerator; and no one was cleaning the house.
Voicing My Concerns
Back at home, I sat down and wrote a heartfelt letter to my Dad. In it I said that I was very worried about Mom; that because she no longer went for doctor’s visits we really had no idea about the state of her health. I said I was also very dedicated to their desire to remain in the house and independent as long as possible, and to that end wanted to explore some local resources and agencies that would be able to provide help when necessary, instead of waiting for an emergency to occur. (Send a comment if you would like a copy of this letter)
When I called my dad a few days later, he had read my letter and said that he’d expected such a letter at some point; that everyone’s life changes as they grow older – when life gets a bit overwhelming. I thank God to this day that he was so reasonable. My mother was not.
Finding Resources for Seniors
So I began to research senior resources in their area. I began here:
- National Agency on Aging: http://www.n4a.org
- Eldercare Locator www.eldercare.gov/
These sites led us to resources near my parents, such as county senior services, local senior centers,grocery delivery services, Meals On Wheels, etc. But my parents weren’t willing to go to senior centers or interact with these agencies, so my husband and I turned to senior care managers.
Senior care management agencies will do an assessment of individuals by coming to their home and interviewing them in a very non-threatening way, and observing their living situation. Then they make recommendations for outside help if needed. We compared several of these agencies, the services they could provide (such as housekeeping, cooking, wellness visits), and the charges for each service. We spoke to three of the agencies by phone and decided to personally interview one of them. We then set up a date for the agency representatives to come to my parents’ house to do an assessment.
Stay tuned for Part II Tomorrow…..
Please comment on the content. I welcome your comments and your experiences!–Christy