Adult children often complain that they don’t want to insult their parents by asking about health information. Other pre-caregivers feel frustrated that parents won’t tell them anything. How do you find out what’s going on.
First, accept that the relationship exists between grown- ups. Parents never become total friends, and I do not believe there is a role reversal, but by this time, your relationship should be more mutual. If you’re sitting in mom’s lap (or in Dad’s pocket all the time,) there’s a conflict of interest about recognizing potential problems. Take responsibility for yourself; be open to hearing, seeing, and learning about your parents’ concerns, AND accept that your parents are grown. As busy as you are, it might be more convenient, or make you feel less fearful if you rush in and take over, that won’t work. You didn’t tell Daddy what to do when you were little; he isn’t going to take well today.
The best way to get information is NOT to wait until someone is ill. Always show interest (not harassment, or worry) about how your folks feel and what’s important to them. News stories and information about other seniors present opportunities to learn what your parents think about illness and how people handle it. If you are gentle and consistent over time, this should leave the door open to exploring their own health and care wishes, housing, relationships, finances, and other issues.
If you’re worried, tell your parents that you want to help them stay healthy. Give an example of a condition you want to avoid. A little reverse guilt doesn’t hurt either. “Isn’t it a shame about Mrs. XXX? I bet her kids feel awful that they didn’t know about that soon enough to help. You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?”
As soon as you recognize a change, start working. In 2012, the Mayo Clinic website posted these early alerts.
Are your aging parents:
• Taking care of themselves?
• Experiencing memory loss?
• Safe in their homes?
• Safe on the road?
• Losing weight?
• In good spirits?
• Able to get around?
These questions are important, but I would suggest others.
• I’d be more specific about “taking care of themselves”
o Do they seem to have more trouble with hearing or vision?
o Are they less concerned about appearance, hobbies and usual interests, hygiene, or housekeeping?
o Is there less food, or rotting food in the house?
o Are the fewer dishes and pots, or more burned pots.
• Be suspicious if a senior begins to mismanage money.
o Does he pay bills late, or forget to pay bills.
o Is she getting collection notices (I’m not asking you to open their mail, but keep your eyes open.)
o Does he spend large amounts of money on strange purchases? Does she talk about contributing to lots of “charities?”
o Are strange people calling, or hanging around?
“I’d like to learn more about how to keep you feeling great.” “So many seniors are getting ripped off. I don’t want that to happen to you” Can your doctor (financial planner/banker/accountant) explain what I can do to help?” That may get you in the professional’s door, but don’t just show up to an appointment. Schedule a conference with your parent. If you have siblings, the whole clan shouldn’t descend on the appointment unless there is a major problem, or it’s decision-making time. You can still collect everyone’s questions, take notes, or ask to record the conference, then give out written answers. This is well worth the investment (health insurance will rarely cover conferences with doctors). You can ask your siblings to share the cost.
The key is not to harass but to share the gift of PRESENCE. Spend good time, share activities you all enjoy bring these issues up in the course of normal conversation and stay alert.
NEXT WEEK Navigating the Health Care System