My 90-year old father lives 7 hours away from me. The kids and I went to visit him after the end of a busy school year. We hadn’t been able to visit him since the holidays. I know it was hectic for him with three very active kids in his house, but something just didn’t seem right. He says he is “fine.” But I think he is struggling to keep up with the house and with preparing meals. I’m worried. How do I know if he needs help and just isn’t willing to admit it? -Alyssa G.
It sounds like you are a devoted daughter and you probably know your father well. You should trust your instincts. Can you try to plan another visit without the children? At that point you can better assess if the suspicions you have were caused by having his normally quiet life disrupted or if there is something more to worry about. It’s important to recognize the warning signs an older family member needs help.
We usually advise families to look for:
- Weight loss – Does he seem to be losing weight without trying?
- Bills piling up – Did you find unopened bills on his desk or counter or even in the mailbox?
- Change in behavior – Has your father stopped participating in activities he has always enjoyed? Does he still attend services at his church or synagogue as he always has?
- Untidy home – What was the condition of his house like? Was it different than usual? Is the refrigerator full of out-of-date food?
- Change in appearance – Has he always been someone who is well groomed and fastidious with his appearance? Does that seem to have changed?
- Confusion – Does he seem to have moments of confusion even if they are short?
- Vehicle damage – Is his car showing a little more than road wear? Do you find dings, dents and scrapes when you inspect it?
- Bruises and bumps – Does your father have any on his head, hands, arms or legs? Is he keeping the fact that he’s been falling from you because he doesn’t want you to worry?
If you found the answer to more than one or two of these questions was yes, it is probably time to schedule a visit to your loved one’s primary care physician. Sometimes the changes in a loved one are so subtle you barely notice them. Then overnight, it feels like you are caught in a crisis and need to find help fast. It is better to play it safe when it comes to the health and well-being of an aging parent.