Parenting Your Parents: How to Know When They Need Help

Parenting Your Parents: How to Know When They Need Help

Your aging parents fear losing their independence. But when should you step in to help?

Take note, baby boomers: If you think an aging parent is losing the ability to handle routine tasks, don’t wait for a medical emergency.

Parents may not want to accept help from loved ones for fear of losing their independence. They may need to be handled with kid gloves.

If you believe they need help for their physical or mental limitations, gently talk with them about getting some help.

What problems to look for

Ability, not age, is the best way to judge whether a parent needs daily help. Watch for the following warning signs:

  • Trouble with basic tasks, such as walking, dressing, eating and cooking.
  • Poor thinking skills. Does your parent get lost while driving, have trouble remembering familiar names and places, or have a hard time answering questions?
  • Poor self-care, such as not bathing and looking sloppy.
  • Failure to take care of responsibilities. Look for unopened mail, unpaid bills and bank account overdrafts.
  • Changes in health. Look for weight loss, bladder problems, changes in appetite, and black and blue marks that could be signs of a recent fall.
  • Increasing isolation. Has your parent lost interest in friendships, activities or hobbies? Does he or she live alone and keep the curtains drawn?
  • Changes in attitude or personality. Is your parent abusing alcohol or drugs or talking about being depressed? Does your parent seem paranoid or want to argue more?

If your parent has any of these warning signs, take him or her to the doctor. The doctor may want to check for dementia. Some types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, can be treated but not cured. Other types of dementia can be reversed or slowed.

If you live far away, it’s hard to know how your parents are doing. Ask your parents’ friends or neighbors to give you feedback and to let you know right away if there are problems.

Taking care of your parents

If your parents need help, realize they probably want to keep control over their lives as long as possible. Involve them in decisions and ask questions about what they want to help reduce their fears.

If possible, divide up responsibilities for care among family members. Don’t leave it up to one or two people. Talk to a medical social worker about community resources to help your loved one. There are also many programs and devices to help a homebound parent, including:

  • Emergency-response devices, such as a bracelet or necklace equipped with a pushbutton radio transmitter that can be pressed when a medical problem arises.
  • Postal alert. The post office can have someone contact you if the mail carrier notices mail starting to pile up.
  • Social day care. Community centers and churches often have group meals, recreation and trips for seniors.
  • Adult day care. Often staffed by health care professionals, these licensed facilities care for people who can’t be home alone during the day. A doctor’s prescription is often required.

Churches, hospitals, senior’s groups and agencies on aging may also help you find resources to help.

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