How do you know when to step in?

Your involvement in your parents' care may start very suddenly with an illness or an accident. Chances are, it will be clear at that time what you need to do. But if things progress more gradually, it can be difficult to know when you should step in and how much you should do. This can be made even more difficult if your parent or parents insist they can "handle it." How do you know when to step in?

When you're trying to decide how involved you should be, take your cues from your parents but try to be aware of details and patterns they may be missing. If you notice dangerous, possibly life-threatening behaviours, it may be time to insist a little more strongly. Some of the more important things to look out for include:

  • difficulty walking or climbing stairs
  • poor personal hygiene, difficulty shaving or showering, or soiled clothing
  • changes in eating habits
  • forgetfulness or confusion about familiar things
  • forgetting medications or taking them too frequently
  • persistent irritability or sudden mood changes
  • signs of depression
  • unpaid bills

If you're starting to be concerned but aren't certain, talk to your parents' doctor or pharmacist. Ask about their medical conditions and get to know what signs indicate they are worsening. Ask about the medications they're taking and how you can tell if they've missed some or are taking them too much. It's possible some of the behaviors you're noticing are a reaction to a medication and a simple adjustment may be necessary. Also, because the doctor and pharmacist have much more experience helping seniors, their insights could be valuable.

How far do you go? How involved do you get? How much do you insist? The answers to these questions are very personal and can be very difficult. It's important to remember that you're dealing with an adult, however physically and emotionally frail and dependent they may seem. They have made many important decisions in the past and they are used to independence and autonomy. It may be difficult for your parents to accept your involvement in areas of their life which, in the past, were totally private. Be patient and understanding.

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