You may have noticed that your aging parents are slowing down. They can’t do everything they used to do physically and perhaps even mentally. How can you help them without making it seem like you’re trying to take control of their lives? Here are seven practical ways to accomplish that goal.
1. Help them pay bills or do their taxes.
One concern you may have is whether or not your parents are keeping on top of their finances. Are they paying their bills on time? Is their important paperwork in order? Are you certain they are not falling prey to financial scams that might put their savings at risk? One way to find out is to help them pay their bills or do their income taxes. This gives you access to their bank statements, credit card balances, and other financial information so that you can readily spot any red flags that may indicate something is amiss. It also may provide you with a nice opening to discuss your parents’ finances—to make sure their will is up to date, that their life insurance is in order, and to gain a full understanding of their debts and assets so that there are no surprises or confusion at the time of their death.
2. Invite them to dinner.
Are you worried about whether your parents are eating well enough? Perhaps you see signs for concern—i.e., a sudden weight loss or lack of evidence that they are cooking regular meals. Inviting your parents to dinner—either at a restaurant or at your house—is a way to gauge how well they are eating. This will help alleviate the burden of them cooking and will allow you to confirm that your parent isn’t suffering from a common problem among older adults: a loss of appetite. If for some reason your parent doesn’t seem inclined to eat, see if you can pinpoint an underlying cause. In some cases, it could be an easy-to-fix factor, such as ill-fitting dentures or a side effect to medication. In other cases, it may be that the food no longer appeals to your parent due to changing taste buds. Maybe just a few extra spices or a change in cuisine will make food more of an enjoyable experience again.
3. Do your grocery shopping together.
Another way to help ensure your Mom or Dad is eating nutritious meals is to take them grocery shopping. This is extremely helpful if they are living alone—either in a private home or in an independent living apartment—and don’t have a car. If mobility is an issue, your parent can use one of the motorized shopping carts that are commonly found in grocery stores today. Shopping together is a better option than doing the grocery shopping while your parent sits at home. It gets your loved one out of the house and also allows the two of you to bond over something that everyone has in common—food.
4. Attend their doctor’s appointments.
Many times adult children drive their parents to the doctor. Rather than sit in the waiting room, ask your mom or dad if you can accompany them when they chat with the doctor. You can explain to them that sometimes you find it confusing when they try to relay to you second-hand what the doctor has told them. Hearing firsthand would be helpful to the both of you, and you might be able to ask questions that your parent alone would not think to ask. However, make sure it doesn’t become a one-on-one conversation between you and the doctor. Your parent should always be involved, front and center, in the conversation.
5. Help around the house.
Whether it’s vacuuming, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, or fixing a leaky faucet, you can provide much-needed help in the cleaning and upkeep of your parent’s home. This will give you an unobtrusive way to judge your parent’s ability to maintain the home well enough to continue living there. Perhaps it can open up discussions about whether or not the home is becoming too much of a burden and, if so, prompt a discussion about the advisability of moving into a senior living community. Ultimately, this is something your parent will need to decide, but starting the discussion is an important first step to that decision.
6. Make sure they’re not alone.
Social isolation in senior citizens is one of the major health hazards of growing older and living alone. Obviously you don’t want your parent to become susceptible to the ill effects that accompany constant aloneness and loneliness. Supportive families and friends can alleviate this possibility by paying regular visits to their elder loved ones and also taking them out to dinner, the movies, theater productions, or family gatherings. Be with them when you can, and also consider senior care resources (adult day centers, in-home health aides, respite care, etc.) as needed to ensure that your parent is interacting on a regular basis with other human beings.
7. Just talk to them.
Conversation is the best way to gauge how your parent is doing, whether via in-person conversations, regular phone calls, or Skype visits. The more you talk to your parent, the more likely they’ll reveal whether anything is physically wrong. Conversations also will reveal if there is anything cognitively wrong. If they repeat themselves or have regular memory lapses, this may be an indication that your parent should be evaluated to determine whether such cognitive lapses are signs of dementia.
Ultimately, conversation is the best way to show your parent how much you care. You’re giving to your loved one your most valued possession—your time. That is the best way adult children can help their parents as they age—by maintaining a cherished connection with loved ones.
By Diane Franklin