Whether it's due to pride, a desire to maintain their independence, or forgetfulness, if you have aging parents there are likely things they aren't telling you. And that can be both troubling and dangerous.
In this new blog series, Things Your Aging Parents Aren't Telling You, by Executor.org, we look at issues and problems that could be happening in your aging parent's life that they are not telling you about -- and offer solutions to help manage these situations.
As parents age, communication matters more than ever, and your ability to keep your parents talking as they encounter new problems will be critical as your role in their lives evolves.
"I am having memory issues."
While memory problems aren't a given when we age, many of us will have to contend with diminishing cognitive abilities. Dementia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is "a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behavior and ability to perform everyday activities." Every four seconds someone in the world is diagnosed with dementia, according to WHO data.
Whether memory loss is dementia or not, a complicating matter is that many of us are reluctant to admit our memory is failing us. And as the adult child of a parent who is suffering memory problems, you might be equally reluctant to bring the topic up with your parent. Overlooking it, however, could put your parent and others at risk. Here's some steps to address the matter:
1. Assess the problem -- If you suspect memory loss is affecting your parent then you need to determine to what extent. Ideally, you can directly address the issue with your parent and ask if they are having any issues. Something as simple as saying, "Mom, I know everyone always talks about how our memory declines as we age. Have you noticed that?" is a great, non-accusatory way of starting a conversation. If you live near your parent, visit more often and just observe. Are they remembering to take the trash out on garbage pick-up day? Are they missing appointments? Is the fridge filled with outdated milk and other old foods? Are they eating and taking any needed medications? Simply by looking around their living space you should be able to get a basic idea of how they are doing or not doing things. Keep in mind the goal here is not to invade their privacy. But if your father starts missing a weekly lunch with friends that he has attended for 10 years, there could be a problem.
If you live out-of-town, try to arrange more frequent conversations and consider asking a friend or family member to set up a visit with your parent.
2. Get a second opinion -- If memory issues prove to be a problem, making an appointment with a doctor is recommended. The doctor can assess the memory problem and look for potential causes. Illness, certain medications, poor nutrition and other medical issues can cause cognitive and memory symptoms that often can be resolved. There also are treatments and medications that can slow memory loss in cases where dementia or Alzheimer's disease is suspected. In short, memory problems are not always a part of normal aging and we should not assume nothing can be done.
Encourage your parent to visit a doctor to find out what is causing the memory fog. Of course if you are concerned that your parent is not well enough to drive, make arrangements for them to get to the doctor or take them yourself.
3. Plan for the future -- Once you have a better read on the extent of your parent's memory issues, you can help plan for the future. If your parent is still able to live independently but has occasional forgetfulness, you can help them devise a plan to compensate for it. It could be as simple as getting a pocket calendar to jot down appointments. Or it could be more involved and require a daily check-in by a friend, family member or in-home caregiver. You might even need to look for an assisted living facility for your parent. You should discuss whether it's safe for your parent to be driving, if they do. If the memory loss is expected to get worse, it will be important to make sure you have the needed information to access their accounts and pay their bills. You also should discuss their final wishes and contact an attorney to make sure their will and estate is in order.
It can be hard to accept the reality of a parent's aging and seeing them lose their memory can be particularly difficult to watch. It's understandable that you might want to put off these tough discussions. But it's important to ask the questions while you can still get the answers you need in order to make sure your parent is cared for in the way they wish and that they are safe as you attempt to help meet their needs.
Patrick O'Brien is CEO and co-founder of Executor.org, a comprehensive online resource that helps executors manage their responsibilities and duties in this complex role. The tool includes a helpful step-by-step interactive guide for executors and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets.