When you’re dealing with aging parents, it’s not always easy to really know what’s happening. Mom or Dad may try to hide things. It is hard to admit to needing help. And, they may fear that they will lose their independence or choices. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. An elder who hides that they need help often ends up in a crisis. With a little bit of help, it is possible to age happily and healthily at home.
You might think Mom is doing fine, but when dealing with aging parents the problems might be hidden. Here are 9 ways they may be trying to keep you in the dark about their issues:
1. Covering up memory issues or cognitive difficulties
Mom might carry on a fairly normal conversation with you on the phone. However, you notice she is vague about some things. For example, you ask her about how an appointment or event went and she says “fine” and tries to move on quickly. Or, you might notice that sometimes she seems caught off guard when you ask her about something, but then recovers.
Additionally, she may struggle to find words from time to time. One of the signs of dementia is difficulty with language. Sometimes the person won’t be able to come up with the word so they’ll use an odd substitute or description (like “hand clock” for “watch” or simply describing what it is rather than saying watch).
2. Hiding bruises and not admitting she fell
Falls are one of the top reasons elders need to move to a care facility. So, they’re rightfully scary. However, the “big fall” that leads to a broken hip or other injury is rarely the first. If Mom would admit she’s feeling off balance or has tumbled recently, solutions are readily available.
We offer a free home assessment to evaluate risks and make the home safer. A few minor changes can reduce the risk of falls and injuries. When dealing with aging parents, the approach is key. Help Mom understand that your goal is to support her to stay in her home.
3. Eating junk food and takeout to cover up for not being able to handle meal preparation anymore
One of the things we often discover on a home assessment is signs of difficulty with meal prep and nutrition. Our care managers frequently find spoiled and outdated food. The pantry may be mostly empty except for junk food. Mom’s fridge contents may be primarily takeout boxes.
People need a more nutrient-dense diet as they age. Unfortunately, this is a time when our nutrition may actually decline for practical and emotional reasons. Preparing healthy meals involves a number of steps that might become difficult. Additionally, depression, loneliness and some medical conditions affect appetite. Various studies have shown that eating patterns change after the death of a partner.
4. Covering up smells or other signs of difficulty with personal care
Mom might start wearing sweats or casual clothes most days when she always dressed somewhat formally. She’ll simply say something like she’s more comfortable, which sounds reasonable. But, that’s often not the real reason. Maybe Mom never went a day without makeup and doing her hair in her life. While you may think that’s not necessary, when she changes lifelong patterns it often indicates lack of ability rather than a choice. Or, perhaps she is depressed or exhausted.
When you’re dealing with aging parents and go for a visit, this is when such problems become apparent. You might notice an underlying odor that shows Mom is not bathing or is incontinent. While you’re staying with her, you might be surprised to find Mom does not take a bath. This is why it can be helpful having care partners involved, even before an aging parent needs help with personal care. They can assist with household chores, driving, and such. In the meantime, they build a relationship that makes it easier if more help becomes necessary. They also may spot issues like this well before you would.
5. Medication overwhelm
More than half of seniors make an error self-administering medications, often with serious consequences such as hospitalization. Many of our clients take multiple medications. Actually, it is rare when we go in to meet a client to find they take less than three medications.
Many times, their medications are a mess. Sometimes, they have overlapping or contraindicated medications. We often find a jumble of pill bottles, some of which are expired and with varying schedules and instructions. Frequently, they cannot explain properly the way they’re supposed to be taking the various medications.
Over the years, many families have called us because they think Mom needs to move to Assisted Living. Or, they explain there’s been a major decline or they’re worried about Mom’s memory. It isn’t unusual for our care manager to end up tracing Mom’s issues back to medication problems.
We can do a medication review, set up med management, and do periodic assessments to prevent the risks of medication errors. Contact us at 727-447-5845 or 813-333-5020 to discuss your concerns.
6. Closing off rooms or quickly cleaning an area so no one notices the state of the household
Just imagine trying to keep up with vacuuming, dusting, laundry, and more when you’re in pain or don’t have energy. That’s the reality for many elders who are living alone. And, they may feel ashamed that they’re no longer able to maintain their home. Even when someone has a cleaning service that comes in, other maintenance issues and day-to-day upkeep can fall apart.
If you’re not there for a while, you may not know. When you do visit, Mom may rally or clean some of the space. We often find seniors that close off parts of their home to hide messes behind closed doors. Admittedly, we may all do that at times. But, for some seniors, there’s a steady process of becoming overwhelmed by household maintenance.
7. Limiting driving
Mom no longer drives at night. She only goes to places within a couple blocks of home. While all of that sounds reassuring, it can also be a transition sign. Mom doesn’t want to admit it may be time to give up the car altogether. Often, she is limiting her driving because she has had incidents or notices there’s a problem.
While she may still be able to drive with such restrictions to help keep her safe, she may not. And, this definitely indicates how important it is to monitor her driving safety. Driving is a highly complex activity that requires physical and mental acuity. Many people can drive well into old age. However, others cannot based on their condition. Mom may be hiding the level of driving help she really needs with these well-meant limits.
8. Not admitting to financial and paperwork problems
Unfortunately, this is an area many elders start to have difficulty with and don’t admit. This can lead to a big mess. Mom may miss bills, lose insurance coverage, or even be scammed. Damage might be done by the time you find out. Tracking down and prosecuting scammers can be nearly impossible. You may be able to intervene with financial institutions, Medicare, etc. if Mom has had problems, but it will take a lot of time and effort.
This is why we recommend simplifying and setting things up before problems come up. Be sure to talk to a lawyer about documents like a Durable Power of Attorney and healthcare directives. Get advice to figure out the best ways to handle finances. Some moves can have unintended consequences (such as adding yourself as a joint owner of an account). Simply reducing paperwork, automating payments, and consolidating where appropriate can make things easier for Mom to manage.
9. When aches and pains, irritability, and sleep issues are really something else
Depression might look quite different in seniors. Mom may not admit to feeling lonely or depressed. Instead, she may show signs of memory problems or be unusually irritable. She might have more aches and pains, headaches, and digestive problems. Perhaps she isn’t sleeping well, feels constantly fatigued, or withdraws from normal activities.
Read more about signs of loneliness and depression in elders and support options. It may be difficult for Mom to express that she needs companionship, but it could be life changing for her wellbeing.
Dealing with Aging Parents: Keeping Them Safe
Learn more about EasyLiving’s innovative Safe at Home program.