Assessing if Mom & Dad Need Help

For many adult children, seeing their parents over holidays, family celebrations or family trips show Mom and Dad in a new light. After every major holiday, spring breaks and summer holidays, we field lots of calls with concerns about aging parents’ abilities to live safely in their home.

Finding your Mindset

It’s essential to be observant but open-minded when approaching this issue. Concentrate on the activities of daily living – known as ADLs – which may be ‘basic’ or ‘instrumental’:

Basic ADLs consist of self-care tasks, including:

  • Personal hygiene and grooming
  • Toileting
  • Dressing and undressing
  • Self feeding
  • Getting out of bed, off the couch, getting around, unaided or using a rollator/‘walker’

Instrumental ADLs allow an individual live independently in the community:

  • Housework
  • Taking medications as prescribed
  • Managing money
  • Shopping for groceries or clothing
  • Use of telephone and other home-based technologies
  • Transportation
  • Involvement within the community

On your visit, consider all these factors when viewing your parent’s home and daily life.

What to Look For

The familiar figures of Mom and Dad – take a minute and take a closer look. Are they well-groomed, or unkempt or smelling less-than-fresh? Are clothes clean or stained; are there any new clothes; is the bed made and are fresh sheets and towels in evidence?

Is the fridge full – not just the ancient condiments on the door – and is the food reasonably fresh? Is Mom able to manage a meal for a large group? Are appliances current and working properly? Is the kitchen appear clean, orderly, well-lit, safely laid out?

The family home – just as you remembered. But it’s not 1972 anymore. Is the house generally well maintained and safe? Is the mailbox accessible, the porch lighting on a timer, is household lighting sufficient? Is the furnace in good working order? Are there smoke and CO2 alarms? Does the bathroom need some grab bars or a safer tub?

Are your parents involved in their community with friends and activities, or do they seem to be isolated or avoid going out? Is the car running properly, and have you ridden with Dad as the driver? Did he seem distracted, easily rattled, show difficulty following directions?

Is the mail being opened – and who is it from? Are there free address labels from every imaginable charity, unopened bank statements or utility bills? Does the phone work, is it conveniently located, are cordless handsets replaced overnight to recharge?

Are Mom and Dad tuned in to the family? Do they recognize and engage? Do they refer often to ‘new friends’ that seem to have entered their lives? Do you know who their doctor, dentist, banker, accountant, lawyer, clergy and other support professionals are?

What to Do

OK, you’ve made your observations – what now?

Firstly, unless life or safety is threatened, don’t say or do anything drastic.

Holidays and vacations are fraught in every way, and everyone is ‘on’. Mom will naturally be flustered by the extra noise and effort of having everyone around, no matter how welcome they may be. Siblings regress to their family patterns and in-laws are edgy; then, add a few drinks! The extended-family dinner table is not the time to ask pointed questions or start doling out advice.

Instead, be observant and subtly helpful; think ahead to avoid overloading Mom and Dad. Don’t wait to be asked – be proactive in helping while still respecting their pride. Try to anticipate and prevent issues – get out there and shovel the walk, do the milk-store run, bring in take-out, tidy up and take the kids out to let off steam.

Soon after the holidays or vacation trip, document your thoughts and ask your siblings for their observations. Common themes can lead you to major areas to address.

But … what needs to be done, and how to get the folks to accept help?

Well, that’ll be the topic of my next blog ……