As the dust settles from a hectic holiday season, a lot of family members are left with a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right with their parents during the Christmas visit. Everything was fine when you visited a couple of months ago, but now it seems like Mom and Dad somehow aged dramatically overnight.
This significant change can also happen to a spouse, a sibling, a friend, or any loved one we have in our lives.
Perhaps they had a disheveled appearance or poor hygiene?
Maybe they had strange bruises on their skin or even scratches on the car they couldn’t explain?
Did they have really low energy and did it seem harder for them to move around?
Perhaps they were confused or uncertain about familiar things?
They just weren’t themselves.
Accelerations in aging can easily catch people by surprise. The key is early awareness of the signs that our aging loved ones’ health and happiness is negatively changing and how best to support them.
First and foremost, Speak up!
Mom might just be in a temporary funk but not investigating and opening dialogue with her about your observations could allow a real health issue to spiral out of control. As we age, our bodies become more fragile so the health and well-being of elderly loved ones can quickly become a crisis if warning signs go unattended.
Remember, nobody likes to be told what to do.
When an aging person experiences changes in their health and happiness, their most common response is to hold on tighter to their independence and autonomy. Rarely will they ask for help. Our ability to live independently is perhaps the scariest thing we lose as we age. So, share with them your concerns without trying to assume a new authority over them.
Here are some common Do’s and Don’ts that may help:
Don’t: “Mom, I noticed you couldn’t keep up with the conversation at Christmas dinner and your house is in poor shape. Maybe it’s time we start looking into moving you into “Assisted Living.”
Do: “Mom, you did a great job with Christmas dinner, as usual. Hosting dinner is a big job; and seemed to take more energy out of you this year than it has in the past. Have you been feeling alright lately?”
Don’t expect Mom to be 100% truthful with you at first, but continue to use non-threating and encouraging words. This will put her at ease and help her to open up.
Always get a second opinion
If you can, find a close and trusted family member or friend to help you confirm the changes you see in Mom. This can be important to make sure you’re on the right track. Make a real effort to keep Moms wishes and wants in conversations about providing her the best possible care.
Finally, keep it real
Know that changes in our aging loved ones’ health and happiness can be caused by many things. It can be an acute problem with a straight-forward solution, or a chronic condition that requires more involved, long-term, care. Work with a trusted healthcare team to address problems and help develop strategies. Maybe the answer is a change in diet or adding a weekly exercise routine. Perhaps it is finding in-home care to help with every day activities. Or, for some, the answer is finding an assisted living or nursing home. Remember, each family and situation is different, so find the right support for you and your loved one.