How to know when a parent needs help but won't admit it.
We all like to think that our parents would tell us if they ever needed help with anything at all. But what if they're embarrassed or too proud to speak up? What if they decide to just keep it to themselves?
The fact is, many seniors are quite reluctant to give up the independence they've enjoyed their whole lives. And even if they already rely on you for some things—like help with home maintenance or shopping for groceries—they may fear that next step. It can be stressful when they realize that driving is becoming difficult, or their balance seems off. To admit to a problem that may have serious implications is probably the last thing they want to do.
Here are three of the more serious problems seniors try to hide, and some thoughts on what to do to ensure they don't succeed.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 7 million American adults age 65 and older are affected by depression. Depression among seniors is often overlooked, however, because their symptoms aren't always obvious and they may not want to talk about feelings of sadness or grief.
You can help by learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression, such as increased irritability, a loss of interest in favorite activities, and unexplained tiredness. If you're a long distance caregiver, it might be harder to assess this over the phone. Try scheduling a video chat with your parent through a free service like Google Hangouts or Skype. And if you do suspect that a parent is depressed? Encourage him or her to talk to you about it—and to see a doctor.
2. Cognitive Decline
While dementia-like symptoms can show up in people of all ages, elderly adults are most at risk for cognitive decline. The challenge for caregivers: ensuring that any loss in cognitive ability is evaluated by a doctor to determine the reasons behind it.
Be on the lookout for: memory loss, an inability to recognize familiar people and places, and difficulty planning or carrying out basic tasks. And also be weary of a parent covering for his or her partner. If you notice someone is completing sentences for the other—or answering questions for that person instead of letting them speak—it may be worth further investigation.
3. Difficulty Driving
Nobody wants to give up their driver's license, especially if it means relying on others to get around. As a caregiver, then, you can make this “transition" easier by explaining to your parent that it's a matter of safety, and that you'll help them find ways to maintain their independence even when they no longer have their own car. Many communities offer low cost transportation options for seniors, or introduce them to the ease of a technology-powered rideshare service, like Uber or Lyft.
So how can you know for sure when it's time to ask for the keys? The National Institute on Aging suggests watching your parent behind the wheel. If they're no longer following the rules of the road, or seem dangerously unaware of other vehicles, pedestrians, or common driving hazards, tell them what you're seeing and indicate your concerns.
No matter what the issue is, your parent will likely appreciate the fact that you've gone out of your way to help them out. Just don't expect them to ever admit it.