The below post is by By Michelle Seitzer of Seniors for Living. It was posted to their blog on May 12, 2010. We found it very helpful in understanding how to approach communicating with your parents when you see changes in their behavior or environment. A medical alert system is often one of the best solutions to provide safety and security for Mom, while giving everyone else in the family some peace of mind. Whether Mom needs a neighbor to come over and help her up, or paramedics to provide life-saving medical care, we can help.
By now, most of the Mother’s Day flowers, cards and chocolates have been delivered. However, concerns may be lingering in the minds of those who just paid Mom a visit. And just as the primary responsibility for buying gifts & cards often falls on the females in the family, so do the responsibilities of caregiving. Typically, it is the daughters or daughters-in-law who notice those subtle changes in Mom’s health and well-being. “It’s not often that sons/husbands comment on the fact that Mom’s house was looking a little dusty and disheveled, but a daughter will likely pick up on that. In fact, there’s a whole book written on this very subject: Laurel Kennedy’s The Daughter Trap.
Check out a review of the book at TransitionAgingParents.com. Whether Mom lives alone or with her spouse, changes in appearance, dress, ambulation (ability to walk/move about), mental/emotional state, memory, or eating habits, whether slight or significant, are cause for concern, but they are not always cause for immediate action (i.e. If Mom’s house is dusty, then we must move her into a long-term care facility). Don’t just start dropping pamphlets and flyers for the local retirement communities and home care agencies in her mailbox, either.
The most important first step, in my opinion, is to talk to your Mom about the changes you see. Ask her how she’s doing, if she’s feeling overwhelmed, or tired, or sick maybe even lonely. There could be a simple explanation – maybe she just didn’t feel like dusting or cleaning after a long week of doctor’s appointments and social engagements. Maybe she hates mowing the lawn, and hiring the teenage boy next door to do the job is all it takes. If the changes are more drastic, schedule an appointment with the family physician to rule out all physical culprits before pursuing specialized psychological/psychiatric services.
Personality changes, mood swings and confusion often accompany UTIs; many have misdiagnosed a simple UTI as Alzheimer’s or dementia because the symptoms are so frighteningly similar (seehttp://www.parentgiving.com/elder-care/understanding-urinary-tract-infections-elderly/ for more information). If Mom’s neighbors know her well, talk with them too (or check in with her pastor or hair dresser). Ask them if they’ve noticed any changes, or if she’s expressed some of her own concerns to them. Many older adults don’t want to burden their children with news of their failing health or a need for more assistance.
The impending loss of independence is devastating, and sometimes it’s harder to share those deep fears and feelings with your loved ones. If you call or visit Mom at the same time every week, perhaps try calling or visiting her at different times. Maybe pay an extra visit or make an extra call if you’re especially concerned, or have a neighbor check in with her now and then. Be proactive, be aware, and be concerned, but don’t jump the gun on major decisions (like moving to a senior care facility or hiring in-home help) until you’ve talked to the person in question. Remember, she’s still your Mom. ~Michelle Seitzer