I remember when I noticed that something was changing with my dad. He didn’t seem to remember things he knew how to do all his life. He had a specific way to start a fire in our fireplace. Very methodical in how he placed the newspaper and the kindling.
He started doing things that he’d never done before: Forgetting the newspaper or folding it differently. At first it didn’t seem like a big deal. However, it became apparent that he wasn’t remembering how to do things he used to do without thinking about it.
It was different with my in-laws. They had long been empty-nesters, but they hated the idea of leaving the home they lived in – the only problem was that the yard was huge and the house was far bigger than they needed. My husband and I knew something needed to change, but they wouldn’t hear it. A few years later, after a few healthcare crises, they knew they couldn’t put it off any longer and moved to an independent living neighborhood. Mind you, one was 93 and the other 84.
Noticing that your aging parents need help often feels like it comes out of nowhere. One day they’re totally capable as they’ve always been, and the next day you suddenly see signs of frailty and everything changes.
If you’re noticing concerning signs in your parents, you may be wondering how seriously to take them. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some common red flags that could mean it’s time to look into helping your parents in some way.
Mental Signs it May be Time to Consider Assisted Living for Your Aging Parents
1. Increased forgetfulness
As you get old, your memory will not be as good as it once was. You will lose your cell phone. That is an inevitable fact that you cannot avoid. What we mean by “increased forgetfulness” is when simple facts and words start to escape them. Or routines they did normally change.
2. Risky driving
Risky driving is one of the most frequently cited signs that your parents might not be able to live independently anymore. Fender-benders can be a clear sign that it might be time to talk to your aging parents. Also taking longer to get somewhere because they forget where they are going.
3. Repeating stories several times in a short period of time
Everybody repeats stories and jokes sometimes, right? But if your mom or dad is telling you the same story two or three times during one visit, then that’s a red flag.
4. Remembering early times as if they happened yesterday
I remember my dad talking about something that happened as a kid, but he wasn’t a kid in the current version. He would also talk about people that were no longer around as if they were. Maybe your parents are referring to someone who has been dead for years as though they’re currently alive.
5. Not calling you by your first name
If your parents aren’t using your first name or just referring to you as “hey, kid”. It may be that they don’t remember your name, which is a definite red flag. My Dad would greet old friends as “Hey neighbor!”
6. Forgetting medications
Most older people know their medication schedule like the back of their hand. If your parents are starting to let things slip, that could be a sure sign that you need to take action soon.
Physical Signs it May be Time to Consider Assisted Living for Your Parents
There are multiple physical signs that it may be time to consider assisted living for your parents.
One thing to keep in mind with some of these: If you’re not living with your parents or frequently spending extended lengths of time with them, then you may not notice these. For instance, your mom may drop a dish when you are over there for lunch one day and you may think nothing of it.
But what you may not know is that she also dropped a dish while walking to the sink last night and while preparing breakfast the day before that. Watch out for signs like broken dishes in the trash and messes on the floor that may indicate a bigger issue.
1. Trouble taking care of simple tasks
One early physical sign to watch out for is if your mom or dad is having a difficult time focusing on simple tasks like food prep or changing clothes. Keep in mind, as people age, they will inevitably slow down. That’s not necessarily a red flag. You want to watch out for when they find themselves stopping and restarting multiple times on simple tasks.
2. Dropping items more often than usual
Everyone drops dishes sometimes, but if your parents are dropping dishes or other things they can’t hold on to more often than usual (multiple times per week), then that could be a strong sign that they will need help soon.
3. Hunched over or not moving around as much
“If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Personal trainers spout this phrase often and that’s because it’s true. If your parents don’t move around much, then that could mean that they are losing the physical ability to take walks or stand up straight.
4. Unsteady walking, tripping or falling
A single fall can be a life-altering event for people of a certain age, often resulting in a broken hip or other injury that could be very difficult to recover from. If your parent is swaying when they stand up or otherwise unsteady on their feet, that’s a surefire sign that help may be needed soon.
5. Sleeping longer than usual
If your aging parent sleeps frequently throughout the day, it may be a sign of a bigger issue. For instance, dementia often makes sleeping at night difficult, leaving people exhausted during the day.
6. Not having food on hand; can’t get to grocery store.
Not going to the grocery store could happen for several reasons: limited mobility, not mentally noticing that they need more food or something else.
If any of those signs sound familiar, now may be a good time to start looking into what your options are for assisted living. And even if you don’t see these signs, talk about it now. So where do you start?
Find a time to talk to your parents
Bringing up the subject of getting assistance with your parents may feel pretty intimidating. That’s okay – no one feels totally comfortable with it, so just know that that’s normal. My husband and I talked to his parents about getting help. Hiring a cleaning service and some landscaping crew. But when it came to moving we hit a wall. However, I wished we had discussed it earlier. It becomes more difficult the longer it goes.
Just be aware that it won’t be easy: Your parents will not be excited to give up their independence. Even if they don’t fight you on it, there will still be sadness there. That’s okay. Give them space and time to grieve.
The sooner you can have the conversation with them, the better. If you wait until they can’t take care of themselves anymore, then you will have to rush through it and it will be far more stressful for everyone involved.
Look into your long-term care options
When it comes to long-term care, you have several options available. In home, out of home, independent living, assisted living – you’ll want to do some research to find out what makes the most sense for your parents and your situation.