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When a Senior You Love Needs Help
If your parent or another senior you love is having difficulty performing the
tasks of daily living such as cooking, housekeeping, home maintenance, bill
paying and grooming/hygiene, it may be time to intervene. If the senior is just
having a bad day or you have identified just one problem, your help can
alleviate the issue. But there might come a time when you notice that the senior
you love needs more than the occasional helping hand.
The following are
signs that a parent may be in trouble:
- Suddenly mum is a glass half-empty gal, focusing on the negative, or you
notice that she is no longer pursuing hobbies or social interests that once
provided her with pleasure. This could be a sign of depression and should be
- Few things raise the spirit like newly coiffed hair, a trimmed beard or a
freshly laundered shirt. However, when people are depressed, personal hygiene
and grooming are often the first daily activities to fall by the wayside. This
can lead to a vicious circle in which the depressed person sinks even lower due
to a negative self-image, which robs him or her of the impetus to bathe and
- If your mother is recently widowed and is having difficulty with the bills,
she may just need a helping hand until she can master these new skills. On the
other hand, if your parent was a good cook or housekeeper or very conscientious
about paying the bills and you see a marked change in these habits, then there
is reason for concern.
- Many symptoms of a decline in health can be attributed to medical conditions
that can be treated. Nevertheless medical intervention is required if your loved
one shows a marked loss of appetite, a change in sleeping patterns, loss of
hearing, incontinence or is becoming accident-prone.
- Is your parent using medication inappropriately? Perhaps they have so many
drugs now that they can’t remember which does what. Or they still have the
entire bottle of pills they got last month. While a good medication regime has
positive effects, there are unfortunate and sometimes deadly results of
improperly taken medications.
- Your parent may have become confused, suspicious or fearful. If this has not
been a part of their personality in the past, or their fears seem exaggerated,
this is a sign there is a problem.
- Dad can’t remember the names of longstanding friends or family, or goes to a
familiar place and can’t get home.
Deciding to intervene on behalf of your aging parent is one of life’s most
difficult decisions, but you must do something when you notice any of all of the
above. First you should approach your loved one, convey your love and concerns
and explore the issue. Then you move onto getting the information or seeking the
professional help they need.
Consider whether you are the most
appropriate person to address these problems and/or whether you should involve
your siblings. Keep in mind your parent’s personal style. Are they very private
or forthcoming? Convey your love and concern and be supportive. Starting the
conversation with "I am concerned because I have noticed" or "I am worried" or
"I feel" ensures your parent will not feel blamed or judged.
The goal is
for you to engage your parent in a conversation, but make sure you are talking
with and not at your parent. Explore with you parent questions such as "What
things bother you?" and " What do you want to do about this problem?" Don’t
present answers or conclusions but be willing to listen to their plans,
preferences or wishes.
As a result you may be able to provide your
parent with possible resources and information and empower them to make the
decisions on what should be done. Good places to start looking for the answers
include search engines on the web where you can key in "elder care" or "seniors"
and specify a Canada only search. There are also a good many organizations and
government offices that have brochures and booklets that you can pass on to your
senior or review yourself. For a database of government policies and programs
for which seniors are the primary beneficiaries go to The Canadian Seniors
Policies and Programs Database at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/seniors-aines
or (613) 952-7606 (seniors may call collect). The Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat
at 1-800-665-9092 or http://www.citizenship.gov.on.ca/seniors/english/guide.htm
produces a pocket guide to programs and services for Ontario Seniors including
information on health, finances, accommodation and assisted living,
transportation and crisis intervention.
Any concerns about your parents’
health or medication questions should be taken up with your parents’ physician.
Make sure you know the name of the current medical professionals serving your
parents. Ask if your parent has told their physician and pharmacy about all the
medications they are taking, including over-the-counter products. Check they
know what each medication is for and when it should be taken (the pharmacy can
help with this if anyone is unsure). It is far better to question a dose or a
particular medication than to regret not asking until someone becomes ill from
over-medication, contra-indications or missed medication.
If your parent
needs just a little help around the home or getting in and out of bed, but
really wants to remain in there home, contact your local Community Care Access
Centre or the Ontario Association of Community Care Access Centres www.oaccac.on.ca who can provide homemakers
and personal support services among many others.
If you and your parent
decides that they can no longer cope at home, even with help, but they want to
continue to live a relatively independent lifestyle and do not want to or cannot
move in with you, contact the Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and
Services for Seniors (OANHSS) at www.oanhss.org or the Ontario Residential Care
Association (ORCA) at www.orca-homes.com for information about
finding a suitable retirement residence.
Through all of this be patient,
keep a sense of humor and if things get too testy, drop it and try again later.
But remember, it is never too early to discuss and plan for the future.
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