Recognizing Common Aging Warning Signs: Podcast Interview & Transcription
[Harrison] Good morning, Miss Joan.
[Joan] Good morning.
[Harrison] So this morning I want to talk about how to recognize signs that may indicate mom or dad, having been independent in the past, may need additional help at home.
Knowing Your Parents & Noticing If They’re Changing
[Joan] It’s really knowing what your mom or dad was like before in all the years growing up because you can’t change what they’ve been like, but starting to see some things like if your mom has always been a neatnik, all of a sudden, the house is not looking too neat, there are dishes piled up where she never would have allowed that to happen, the cleanliness… that kind of thing.
If she’s always been a hoarder. You know, that’s who she is, and then you’d have to look at some other signs. When she talks to you, is she still talking to her friends like she used to? Is she going to the grocery store? And what’s in the refrigerator? Some of those things can, can be really… Eye opening for kids, they think everything’s fine and they open the refrigerator and it’s empty, or it has things that your mom has never had before.
Um, it’s really difficult in many situations because the loss of independence. It’s very frightening for many older people, and it really affects their self-esteem. So they will very often hide those things. And so, as a family member, uh, you can’t change how they’ve always been but you can have to decide how to really sit down and have that honest conversation. If it’s a family, maybe get the whole family together to talk. Because again, mom or dad are going to just say, “Oh, I’m fine. Just don’t bother me. I don’t know what you’re seeing, but it’s not true. I’m fine. It was just having a bad day”. There’s just a lot of excuses that people will use, especially if they feel threatened, which in early stages of being able to not or not able to function is so threatening to a lot of older people because they see or they fear a lot more down the road. The biggest fear that someone has when they realize they’re not functioning like they used to is, “oh my kids are going to put me in a nursing home”. And just trying to say if we just bring in a little help just to maybe help you do your laundry or just the things that you are having a struggle with and just sitting down and talking, but just noticing the changes. A lot of times, if you only visit every couple of weeks, you’ll see those changes when you come in.
A lot of times at holidays is when families all of a sudden realize, uh oh, mom or dad need more help because they perhaps haven’t seen them that much or they’ve seen them for just a few minutes, taken them out for dinner, but all of a sudden they’re in their home and they suddenly realize that mom or dad need some help.
So realizing it is… is a big step, but then communicating that and deciding as a unit, whether it’s mother, daughter, whole kids, is what kind of help and how resistant is mom or dad. I have a 96 year old friend. Her daughter lives out of town. She’ll call me and she’ll be crying and nobody helps me and then her daughter will get help and she’ll send them away.
“I’m fine. I don’t need help”. And then she has a fall. So it’s an ongoing thing with her. And part of it is she doesn’t want to; she has a dual thing. She doesn’t want to trouble her daughter. because her daughter lives far away, but at the same time, she’s somewhat resentful that her daughter is leaving her by herself.
Family Dynamics & Getting on the Same Page About Mom or Dad
There’s so many family dynamics. There’s a wonderful book that I often refer people to called You and Your Aging Parent. And it is, it was, it’s Oh, gosh, I don’t remember what year it was published, but it’s still very current because it talks through how you feel about your own aging, because how you feel about your own aging affects how you feel about your mother or father. The fact that you can’t rewrite your family history… you can’t change what your mother or father have been like, and then how can you together approach the reality of their aging and provide the services or help provide the services they need. For some it’s wonderful. “Yeah, just yeah, I’d love to have the help” and they welcome it and and it works great. And I’m sure you love those kind of clients in your company, but for many, it is the acceptance of help in the home is the first acceptance that I’m not as independent as I want to be and thought I would be.
And that can be a real blow to self esteem.
How to Address Concerns with an Aging Loved One
[Harrison] So as family members start to notice that perhaps mom or dad is deviating from the norm, How should they address their concerns? Do they mention their concerns in the moment, or should they take a more wait-and-see approach to their concerns?
[Joan] Uh, I always have to say it depends. I don’t mean to evade it, but it depends on what the relationship has been like. If you’ve always had a very open, straight relationship, I think just say right then, Gee, Mom, I noticed… You seem to be not getting your dishes done as like you do, you know, is it getting too hard or you could say it that way.
If they have always been very resistant to any kind of admission of needing stuff, just denying illnesses and stuff, then you have to figure out how to approach it. I have another neighbor who has two brothers and her mom was having a lot of struggles and she would tell her mom and her mom, of course, would resist it.
And then she had one brother who saw it the same way she did. And another brother said, “Oh, mom’s fine”. So they really had to as a family sit down together with mom and talk it through. Because again, there, there are, when they’re siblings involved, there’s often seems to be one per one sibling who thinks everything is just fine and is denying it.
That’s because sometimes it’s because they’re denying they’re afraid of their own aging and they can’t do it or they can’t deal with mom or dad starting to need help means. They’re going to die at some point, and they start facing that reality. So, I think they have to realize what, what has their relationship been?
Have they always been able to be very honest and straightforward together and talk things through? That’s one way. But if they have not, then it’s trying to sit down and say, okay, how can I respectfully acknowledge stuff. And I think the important thing is the older person has to have a say in the whole thing.
It’s not, “Mom, we’re doing this. We’re taking over your house”. Because even if they’ve been quite dependent, that’s going to turn them off. And having them have a say. And again, I think talking with them again, you know, these people are going to be guests in your home, and you can help decide what you want them to do, or don’t want them to do when you want to, they’re not going to be dictating to you, but they’re going to be there to support you.
So you have a voice in this. And getting off to the right foot from the first time they come to your home and sitting down and talking very honestly with them is a good first step. So that helps put that person in charge or feel like they have some control and some charge.
Warning Signs that its Time to Have a Conversation
[Harrison] Yeah, as I’ve been in this field, I’ve noticed that there tend to be obvious warning signs of a problem.
Like you mentioned, dishes piling up that used to be always taken care of promptly. More dents popping up on the car…but are there any other warning signs worth pointing out that are obvious to us because we hear it so often, but wouldn’t be as obvious to the family members of aging loved ones?
[Joan] One area that I think probably the adult son or daughter may not necessarily visit is the bathroom.
Because a lot of times, especially if people are having trouble with continence, they won’t, they’re not going to tell their son or daughter. But having to just go into the bathroom and noticing that they’re, they maybe cleaned it up, but there’s signs that they’ve had, “an accident”, just noticing does the shower look like it’s been used for a while, things like that, because a lot of times, Because the bathroom can be a very dangerous place for an older person if they are feeling unsteady and they fall and stuff or again, if they have to rush to the bathroom and don’t make it, they’re not going to tell a lot of times they’re not going to tell somebody noticing that. And jus following your instinct, so to speak, of what your mom or dad have always been like, and something doesn’t feel right. And so trusting that something doesn’t feel right, you don’t know quite what it is, but then sitting down and saying, Mom, something feels not so good. Are you okay? Do you feel like you could use some more help?
Just, but just following your instinct sometimes can be the door that will open to the whole thing.
[Harrison] This is really helpful, and I believe will give families some good tools in keeping an eye out for their aging loved ones. So thanks so much, Ms. Joan. Have a great day.
[Joan] – You’re welcome. You too. Bye bye.