Editor’s note: This is the fourth in the Next Avenue “When Should You…” series on aging milestones for parents or loved ones. With our partners at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, we will address common caregiving concerns.
An awkward transition occurs when you realize you are parenting your aging parent. You (hopefully) overcome your own denial, step in with help — and meet resistance, especially, understandably, if it means a loss of independence.
In some cases, you have to let go. You may not agree with what your parent chooses to do. But that doesn’t mean you’re required to act. And that’s just something you have to live with, says Norbert “Bert” Rahl, director of mental health services at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s Eldercare Services Institute.
(MORE: Transforming Life as We Age)
In most situations, aging parents get along fine without their kids butting in.
However, according to Rahl, there are five crisis situations in which you need to step in to intervene and be "the bad guy.” These are the instances:
1. Mom or Dad can no longer drive safely. The most obvious, and possibly the most dangerous, crisis situation is impaired driving. If Dad can no longer see street signs at night, if Mom’s reflexes have slowed down, it may be time to discuss giving up the keys.
If you’re lucky, a failed driving assessment may be all that’s needed to convince your parent or loved one that it’s no longer safe to be behind the wheel.
(MORE: Diagnosis Dementia: When to Stop Driving)
Your parent’s physician or case manager may be a helpful ally in convincing him or her that it’s time.
If that doesn't do the trick, and the situation is clearly life threatening, it can be referred to the state Division of Motor Vehicles, which has the legal right, based on the assessment’s findings, to revoke a person’s driver’s license.
2. The house is not safe for aging in place. Running a close second: an unsafe home environment as evidenced by falls, 911 calls and/or trips to the emergency department or hospital.
A home assessment can suggest home modifications, equipment and devices that can help improve safety. Simple things such motion-sensor lights, grab bars and removal of throw rugs can reduce the risk of falls and make the home safer. Arranging in-home services can also help your parent remain safely at home.
If your parent is isolated or upkeep of the home is too demanding, you may want to talk about downsizing. If health concerns require constant attention, supportive housing, assisted living or even nursing home care may be the best option.
3. Your parent is not taking his or her medication properly. If your mother or father is either not taking the meds or incorrectly taking them, it’s time to step in. Either situation can have deadly consequences. Ask your parent's physician or pharmacist to explain the dangers. You can help by investing in an inexpensive pill case to sort medications by day of the week and time of day.
4. Cognitive decline is leading to bad financial decisions. Age-related cognitive decline or dementia can cause your parent to make bad decisions that may drain savings and retirement accounts and put future security and care at risk. It may be time to step in and manage your parent’s finances or at least be on the lookout for unusual activity. Older adults are at highest risk for financial exploitation, whether from scam artists or, more frequently, from other family members.
(MORE: How to Keep a Parent Safe From Financial Abuse)
5. Your parent is displaying signs of depression. At any age, signs of depression should be taken seriously. Often, though, signs in older adults are overlooked or downplayed as normal aging. In fact, older adults are more likely to commit suicide than teenagers. If your loved one says she wishes she was dead, or feels like she is a burden to you, don’t brush it off. Seek help from a counselor or other mental health professional.
What to Do Before a Confrontation
These five crises require action, and the quicker the better. However, that might not mean immediately confronting your parent, says Rahl.
Talk about your concerns with your parent’s physician, therapist or social worker, your minister or a friend. Just talking about it with a third party may help you recognize alternatives, see options and find workable solutions. If the situation is linked to cognitive decline, your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association or your local Area Agency on Aging can point you in the direction of programs and services that may help you solve the problem.
In some situations, a full or partial geriatric assessment can provide solutions that address the problem and improve your parent’s overall quality of life.
If the situations above persist, it might be time to consider legally gaining control of your parent’s affairs.
Next month, we will explore when to get power of attorney for health care and/or finances and other essential caregiving documents.
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This article is reprinted with permission. © 2014 Benjamin Rose Institute in Aging. All Rights Reserved.