As a child your mum and dad most likely did everything they could to keep you safe and well, whether it was rushing you to the doctors when you ran a fever or patching up your knees after a tumble on the school yard. So it’s no surprise that as your parents age, you probably want to do the same for them, looking out for their needs and stepping in when their health starts to decline.
Although they no doubt want to remain independent by taking care of the chores and looking after themselves, there comes a time when an extra helping hand is needed. But deciding when to bring in reinforcements can be tricky, as you try to achieve the balance betweena stepping on your parents’ toes and making them feel useless, while ensuring they receive the very best care.
According to Clinical Geropsychologist Nancy Pachana there are two main ways of figuring out whether things are becoming a bit tough for your parents around the home – the first being keeping an eye out for signs, and the second is simply communicating with them about their day to day lives.
As their child, you will most likely know better than anyone what the ‘norm’ is for your parents, so if you noticed that the garden was becoming a little out of control or the fridge was barely stocked, alarm bells would start ringing. It’s these simple observations that Pachana says are important to look out for, and to bring up in conversation if you believe there’s a cause for concern.
“You should ask directly, but also look indirectly at things like, if the fridge is empty or there’s not that much in there,” Pachana explains to Starts at 60. “That could start the conversation around what’s the best thing to solve the problem, like Meals on Wheels or having the grocery store deliver.”
Meanwhile, Pachana claims the accumulation of “stuff” such as newspapers and other items with a relatively low value, as it may develop into a hoarding problem which comes with a range of health issues.
“The home could become unhygienic as things start to rot, there may be lots of insects, it could be difficult to navigate the house and there would be an increasing risk of fall,” she says. “If gradually there is more and more unusable space, that might be the time to say something and get help.”
For many elderly Australians the prospect of sending their husband or wife to be cared for in an aged care home is too stressful and so they take on the role of carer themselves. Though they have their partner’s best wishes at heart, the role can be stressful on both the body and mind.
Pachana says you should watch for signs that the carer is becoming overwhelmed with the duties, which could be anything from noticing a sink full of dirty dishes every time you visit, to the house being a mess. She suggests that if this becomes a regular occurrence, it might be wise to bring up the idea of getting some help every now and then.
However, in more serious cases the situation can quicky worse, with the carer struggling to manage the care needs of their partner.
“If the person being cared for needs a lot of medical attention, such as being transported to places for showering or has severe arthritis which compromises their movements, it becomes tricky to do self-care on them,” the university researcher explains. “This is the time to step in and get the professionals to help out, before the partner hurts themselves as well.”
Pachana says that, if possible, services from a provider at home should be utilised, instead of sending the person to an aged care facility. She explains this is the better option as it can allow your parents to feel more comfortable and at ease being surrounded by their loved ones in their own community.
“When you put the person into aged care their cognition is going to drop because they have nothing familiar, and it’s then that it’s going to be very hard for the caregiver to watch because they will think in a sense, ‘I’ve caused this to happen, I’ve abandoned my person’ and what not,” the University of Queensland professor explains.
While looking out for obvious signs is an easy way to see when things have taken a turn, Pachana says sometimes adult children can leap to conclusions without discussing the situation with their loved one. She says adult children should be careful not to force care when it might not be needed.
For example, you may think your parent needs assistance tidying the garden, when really that is not a problem at all and they are actually having trouble preparing their meals and getting to the shops. Meanwhile, Pachana advises kids to approach the conversation carefully and not force the care, but instead try suggesting help and point out the benefits it could bring to their lives.
“Nobody likes somebody pointing out ‘Hey you’re not really able to do that anymore’,” she says. “Really what you’re saying is that person lacks confidence. I think it’s useful to ask people about your observations and think of ways they can still stay independent.”