When do my aging parents need help?

Adult daughter with her aging parents smiling

Blowing out 50 candles isn’t easy, physically or mentally. It was a different kind of birthday for me. I turned 50! The big five-oh! Why did I feel so old?

I went full circle with the thought of being old. From, “Oh my god, what’s happening to me?” to “I don’t feel any different.”  But my life did change. I began looking at life around me with a more observant eye.

Take my parents, for example. Mom was 73, and dad, 77. I looked at them differently now; I saw old people. I began noticing little things that worried me, like my mom becoming forgetful. Not just with dates and appointments, but she was having a hard time remembering some people, and others, their names.  Did I need to do something about this? Say something to Dad? What’s my role? Is this simply the aging process?

And Dad, I noticed he didn’t leave his recliner when I visited one afternoon. He finally got up to walk me to the door as I was leaving, and I noticed he was limping.  He played it off as nothing but the next time I came over, he was limping more. I finally got him to show me his leg and saw a bruised, swollen ankle. “Dad! What happened to your ankle?” He tried to play it off again, then got a little angry. The anger turned to tears. He had fallen getting out of the bathtub. After a visit to the ER, the discovery of a hairline fracture, and the slight shock of a walking cast, I suddenly realized, without uncertainty, my parents were no longer the invincible protectors I had relied upon my entire life. My parents were aging. Although a natural part of life, I didn’t have to like it; I also couldn’t ignore it.

Back at home in the safety of my newly appreciated 50, I couldn’t stop thinking about my parents and the what-ifs. The what-ifs turned into worries. What if Mom got lost? Or Dad fell again? Should Dad still be driving?

My younger brother by six years lived 1,200 miles away. I’m sure he will be concerned when I let him know about the changes I’ve seen in our parents.  I needed to realize that it was my turn to be the invincible protector, simply by geography. Getting them used to that idea would be a struggle. I knew my dad couldn’t step down from the throne he has so proudly coveted for the past 50 years. So how will I pull this off?

I put on my detective hat and began scouring the internet for other adult children having similar experiences and worries. I didn’t have to dig very far or long. There are millions of middle-aged children of aging parents like me who struggle with the fact that their parents need help—a role reversal that had never crossed their minds until they saw the signs. Just like me.

Let me tell you, there’s so much information available that your head will spin. Mine did. The options are daunting. What I had going for my parents and me was that they were relatively healthy for their ages, Dad still drove and they had a retirement plan that allowed for a comfortable living in the home where they raised my brother and me. They were still taking weekend getaways in the car to visit friends or just to see new scenery. Life was pretty good for them. But my parents were getting older, and it was becoming a challenge, for me at least.

The options I found include long-term care that they weren’t even close to needing, senior communities that I knew they’d never go for because they loved the house they called home for nearly five decades, but the one that made sense to me was having help in their home. Home care agencies staff professional, compassionate caregivers who help with everything from running errands to laundry to tidying up the house. If the time came that they needed help with daily living, it was available. Whatever is needed. I learned that home care was the answer for my aging parents to live full lives in the home they loved and for me to have peace of mind. My brother was in agreement with home care when the time came.

While that made sense to me, how would a caregiver keep Dad from falling again or help with Mom’s failing memory? So I dug a little deeper. Here’s what I learned after telling my story to a home care agency administrator at SYNERGY HomeCare. First, they have caregivers with skill levels to accommodate my parents as their needs change. Second, I learned they have caregivers skilled in dementia care, and they recommended I have Mom evaluated by a doctor before I start making care plans. And for Dad, they gave me a brochure on fall prevention—why didn’t I already know these things? I ended the call feeling empowered to make some go-forward decisions. After the call, they emailed me a 20-page guide for the family caregiver, me. Every adult child of aging parents should have that guide to prepare, plan and provide care the right way, so you can find it here, plus two others that are helpful—one on fall prevention for seniors and the other is about signs that your aging parents need help at home.

After talking with the administrator, I took mom to a memory specialist and took both for complete physicals. These appointments were a smart way to begin my “watch” of the two most important people in my life who have been watching over me for a lifetime.

The doctors revealed that Mom and Dad were aging fine. But, ultimately, they needed to be more careful and aware of their surroundings. So I had bathroom safety bars installed in the bathroom and SYNERGY HomeCare generously performed a home safety assessment and gave me tips to reduce the possibility of falls. They even told me how to have “the talk” about aging with my parents—now I know how they felt when they gave me “the talk” about 38 years ago. The talk was a little uncomfortable for each of us, but it sunk in a little and got easier as time went on. It remains top of mind for all of us, and Dad is sharing his throne a little more these days.

We haven’t had to use home care yet. All of us are more prepared and on top of health issues. It turned out Mom didn’t even have the beginning of dementia—she had a bad UTI, which can mimic memory issues. Who knew? We are all learning how to care for our aging selves. And 50 is feeling pretty darn good today.

I had no idea there was so much to learn about aging safely. The one thing I knew was that I wanted to enjoy my parents in their golden years and being prepared had calmed my anxiety about something happening to them. I feel so much more able to manage what comes our way.

When I do need home care for Mom and Dad, it will be SYNERGY HomeCare.

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