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Identifying Mom’s Needs Key to Reaching Family Consensus

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The signs all point to trouble for Mom. You and your siblings are concerned, but not sure how to proceed, especially because your mother is reluctant to leave her longtime home. Leaving home, though, is only one option, and the least popular among older adults, many of whom just need a little help around the house.

Q. My 75-year-old mother’s house seems to be in a progressively worse state of disarray each time I make my monthly visit. My sister tries to help out a couple of times a week, and Mom has told her that she’s not ready for a care facility yet. Our brother, who lives 800 miles away and seldom visits, thinks we might be overreacting. Our minds are racing — is it time to persuade her to move out or does she just need more help?

There’s no need to panic since it appears that your mother is not in immediate danger. Take a slow and steady approach that involves observation to try to pinpoint the exact nature of your mom’s issues. Make it clear to Mom you want to work together on a solution so that she isn’t fearful that decisions about her fate are being made behind her back.

Then ask yourselves these questions: Is the problem simply that your mother is physically challenged by strenuous housework or is she deteriorating mentally? Does she just need help tidying up around the house or are other aspects of her personal care, such as bathing, going downhill?

Be on the lookout for warning signs that a senior could be in trouble including:

  1. Changed eating habits within the last year resulting in weight loss, having no appetite or missed meals.
  2. Neglected personal hygiene resulting in wearing dirty clothes, body odor, bad breath, neglected nails and teeth, sores on the skin.
  3. Neglected home that is not as clean or sanitary as you remember growing up.
  4. Inappropriate behavior including being unusually loud or quiet, paranoid, agitated and making phone calls at all hours.
  5. Changed relationship patterns such that friends and neighbors have expressed concerns.
  6. Physical problems such as burns or injury marks resulting from general weakness, forgetfulness, or possible misuse of alcohol or prescribed medications.
  7. Decreased or stopped participation in activities that were previously important to them such as bridge or a book club, dining with friends, or attending religious services.
  8. Forgetfulness resulting in unopened mail, piles of newspapers, unfilled prescriptions or missed appointments.
  9. Mishandled finances such as not paying bills, losing money, paying bills twice or more, or hiding money.
  10. Unusual purchases such as buying more than one magazine subscription of the same magazine, entering a number of contests or excessive purchases from television advertisements.

If the problem is physical, then begin the conversation with an offer to have someone come in more often to help with things such as light housekeeping chores and meal preparation.

Many adult children of aging adults know how difficult it can be to talk with parents about certain topics. Following, from the Home Instead® network and communication expert Jake Harwood, Ph.D., from the University of Arizona, are additional tips to help family caregivers work with their aging parents on sensitive subjects.

  • Sooner is best. Talk sooner rather than later when a crisis has occurred. Begin to address issues before a bigger problem arises.
  • Maximize independence. Always try to move toward solutions that provide the maximum amount of independence for the older person. Look for answers that optimize strengths and compensate for problems.
  • Be aware of the whole situation. Perhaps your mother’s issues stem from a lack of social support. Make sure that your mom has friends and a social life.
  • Ask for help. Many of the issues of aging can be solved by providing parents with the support they need to continue to maintain their independence. Resources such as Home Instead, Area Agencies on Aging and local senior centers can help provide those solutions.

Good luck with your mother. Careful observation, communication and a plan of action all will help your family make the best decisions. What’s more, your local Home Instead office can serve as a resource by providing a free in-home evaluation.

Last revised: February 15, 2012

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