What to Do About Aging Parents

Even if you’ve spoken with your parents about aging, the signs can still surprise you. This advice will help you get through five common scenarios.

Photo by James Merrell

If You’re Concerned About Your Parents’ Safety at Home…

Don’t rush to the conclusion that they have to move out. If a parent is physically frail but cognitively intact, you may have to swallow your fears, says Joan Teno, M.D., professor of community health and medicine at the Brown University Medical School. “If they are able to weigh risks and benefits, then let them make the decisions,” she says. For example, how likely is it that your parent will fracture a bone in a fall? How much happier would he be staying in a familiar setting?
There are ways to ensure safety while respecting a person’s autonomy. Inspect for hazards, such as loose rugs, and install handrails on all stairs and reflective nonslip tape on uncarpeted steps. Replace dim bulbs with bright ones, and add night-lights. Rearrange closets to make everything accessible.
If a parent suffers from Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, you may indeed have to move him or her or arrange for live-in help. Small crises can also be red flags. For instance, if Dad burns the toast and starts a little kitchen fire, that’s the time to reevaluate safety―before disaster strikes.

If You’ve Noticed the House Isn’t as Clean as it Used to Be…

Try to discern if the problem with cleaning is physical, as with arthritis or some other condition that makes reaching, bending, and sweeping hard. Mom and Dad may not even notice the dust or the mustiness as their senses deteriorate, says Charlotte Spiegelman, a clinical social worker in Los Angeles.
You can also pay for household help as a Mother’s Day or birthday present, suggests Lisa Gwyther, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. Give a gift certificate for a cleaning service and schedule the appointment. If your parents are worried about prying strangers, hire someone you know or get a referral.