How do you know when an older loved one needs help at home? Sometimes we have bit of a blind spot when it comes to our parents or the people who raised us; when we were small, it seemed like they could do anything. But as we, and they, age, things change. We may still think of our parents as capable and strong, but in reality they may be in need of help.
Even if you recognize that your parent or loved one isn't functioning as well as they used to, and even if they recognize it themselves, they may bristle at the suggestion that they need help. As much as you dread their loss of independence, you can be sure that they are dreading it even more.
Suggesting a parent needs assistance is a bit of a delicate balance; you don't want to upset or insult them, but you also don't want to leave them vulnerable to injury simply to avoid injuring their pride. As with suggesting that a parent give up driving, it's often best to stick to describing your factual observations ("I've noticed there hasn't been much food in the fridge the last few times I've visited; I'm concerned that you're not eating well"), rather than leap to conclusions about what needs to happen next ("You can't stay here by yourself anymore!"). Then, you can ask them what they need, recognizing that they may still be reluctant to acknowledge the need for help.
Here are some things that may suggest that a parent or loved one needs some help at home. If only one of these signs applies, it may not be significant, but if you observe several, it's time to broach the topic of getting some help in the home:
Let your loved one know some of the specific things you've noticed, and ask if they are concerned, as well. Ask them their thoughts about what is causing the issues you've observed. An empty fridge may be a sign of a declining appetite, difficulty getting out to shop, difficulty maneuvering around the kitchen, or financial difficulties.
If your parent or loved one acknowledges the need for some extra support, you can talk about options. Depending on the situation, newer technology for seniors may make it possible for them to remain in the home by themselves. Alternately, you may want help them secure part-time or full-time help.
If memory or judgment is an issue, or if your parent is unwilling to acknowledge a problem, you may be concerned not only for how they will manage in the home, but for the security of their finances. It may be best to consult an elder law attorney to discuss having your parent execute a power of attorney with you as their agent, if they are willing and able. If they are not, a guardianship or conservatorship may be in order.
An elder law attorney deals with several areas of the law that are relevant to the needs of older people, including planning for incapacity and long term care and protecting assets. He or she can also help you identify options to meet your loved one's needs, both now and as they evolve.