Watch for Signs, Don’t Await Crisis

By Valerie
April 15, 2010

When I was about 25 years old, my grandmother stopped allowing her family and friends to step over the door sill into her apartment.

Like the Queen’s Guard (only friendlier), my grandmother would stand at her post and block all entries to her home. She would wave off all forms of assistance with her groceries or bags.

A former Eaton’s model in the 1940s and a woman of great fortitude and independence made discussing her future care and housing options challenging for my mother and uncle.

It wasn’t until she broke her arm six months later that my mom could get her foot in the door, literally. My grandmother’s fracture led to the door being opened a small crack — just enough for mom to realize she had a crisis on her hands.

Recognizing the “signs” that your aging loved one needs more help or care than they are willing to admit to can be tricky.

Is Mom’s memory loss normal or is it serious? Dad seems so frail — is he managing?

Uncertainties or lack of knowledge about the aging process makes it hard to judge whether a senior’s behaviour is normal or a cause for concern.

Sometimes it’s subtle changes, such as a house slowly being neglected indicating your parents aren’t physically able to make repairs.

Or you notice they become easily overwhelmed with certain aspects of daily living or are showing signs of memory loss.

Lack of attention to personal hygiene is a “red flag” and should be taken very seriously. Other signs to watch for:

Opening up and talking honestly to parents about touchy topics can be awkward. Most adult children want to run in the other direction.

After the fact, my mother confessed she should have kept trying to have open discussions with my grandmother. She recalls, “She was hard to talk to and it wasn’t easy for me to admit my mother was declining so quickly. She was always such a strong and independent woman.”

Don’t wait for a crisis. Start now.

The conversation you have with your aging loved one starts with whether, when and how you take on some or all of their care. The message you want to convey with tact is one of respect and support even if you don’t agree with their decisions.

Rome wasn’t built in a day — it may take a few conversations with your aging loved ones over a couple of weeks or months to slowly discuss various topics.
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC