10 signs your ageing parents may need more help than you think

There are 2.65 million carers in Australia, representing 10.8% of us, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Image: Pexels

They call people balancing the needs of ageing parents with raising children the "sandwich generation" – and they can be spread so thin that they feel transparent. Anyone who has dealt with sick or frail parents - or been through the experience of getting them into aged care - can talk about the complex emotions, ranging from sadness to a profound sense of responsibility.

Everyone values independence, from toddlers to centenarians

Every human being values their free will and living life on their own terms.

As we get older, it can be hard to admit - especially to our children - that we need extra support to remain independent and safe living at home.

But the earlier people get help to live independently, the more likely it is that they can put the right support in place to age safely at home.

Even if you just have a slight sense that they are starting to struggle with everyday tasks, it’s worth starting the conversation and taking steps towards getting support. The wait times for home care can be long and you don’t want to wait until things are more serious.

10 signs your parents might need more support than they are letting on

1. Medication mix-ups

Pay attention to whether your loved one is taking their medications as prescribed. If you notice pill bottles piling up, medications mixed up, or dosages missed, it could be a sign that they need help to manage medications independently. It can also lead to serious health issues, especially if they have complex medication regimens.

2. Unexplained bruises or injuries

Frequent unexplained bruises, cuts, or injuries might indicate that your loved one is experiencing falls or accidents at home. This could be due to reduced mobility, balance issues, or other physical limitations. Falls can have serious consequences for older adults but quickly reducing safety hazards can prevent accidents like broken bones.

3. Neglecting personal hygiene

If you notice changes in personal hygiene habits, such as infrequent bathing or unkempt hair, it could be an indication that your loved one is struggling to manage their personal care routines. Physical limitations, cognitive decline, or even depression can be part of the problem, so seeking the right medical help and talking and addressing these issues can greatly improve their quality of life.
Remember, open communication and a non-judgmental approach are essential when discussing these signs with your loved ones. Offering support and exploring options to assist them can help them maintain their independence and wellbeing as they age.

4. Limited fresh food in the fridge or pantry

If your loved one is starting to find it difficult to get to the shops to do their regular grocery shopping, you might notice that their supply of food is getting low, or things are out of date. Have a look in the fridge – is there enough food? Is it fresh and within its use by date?
You might also find that there are more pre-prepared, frozen or canned foods than is normal for your loved one. If so, it might indicate that it’s getting hard for them to prepare and cook their own meals.

5. Limited mobility

Loss of mobility is inevitable as we age and it can make simple daily tasks very difficult. Watch the way your loved one moves about their home. Can they easily get up from chairs, reach the cupboards they require and safely get in and out of their shower or bath? This can become a real issue if there are small steps or furniture hazards preventing clear pathways through the home and is best addressed through simple changes and perhaps adding support rails in strategic places.

6. Unusually vague and forgetful

Find a time when you’re not busy and don’t have the competing demands of work or children so that you can really pay attention to your loved one. Are they forgetting things, or having conversations that don’t make sense or are out of context?
Be careful not to dismiss any memory changes or confusion you witness – it can be easy to shrug things off and tell yourself that their forgetfulness is just because “they’re getting older”. However, cognitive decline can be common so it’s important to know if something needs to be addressed.

7. Unclean or inappropriate clothing

Are your loved one’s clothes clean? Are they dressed appropriately for the weather, or for the situation they’re in? Dirty or unusual choice in clothing can be an indication of a few things. Often, people who are feeling lonely and depressed lose interest in their own upkeep and will re-wear the same clothes again and again. Or, it could be that doing laundry is physically difficult and is therefore avoided. Start the conversation with a few non-threatening questions and find out what the answer is.

8. Soiled sheets, towels, or a dirty home

Look around the house – are the towels and sheets clean and the bed made? Are there piles of washing or none at all? It may be that your loved one is finding housework too difficult and they need an extra helping hand.
Changing bedsheet, hanging out washing and vacuuming, dusting or mopping can be very tiring and taxing for older adults, especially if they are starting to have some mobility and flexibility issues. Seeking some household or domestic support can make a huge difference to the life of your loved one.

9. The house and garden need maintenance

Maintaining things in and outside the home are tasks that can be the most difficult for ageing adults. Look out for gutters that are in need of a good clean, lightbulbs that need changing, windows that need washing, or lawns that need mowing and overgrown gardens that need weeding.
An overgrown garden can be a fall or trip hazard, so it’s really important that your loved one has some support tidying up and maintaining any paths or walkways leading to and from the house.

10. Limited social contact

Isolation and loneliness is a big risk for many older Australians. Have you noticed that your loved one is leaving home less and less, or has minimal contact with others? Is it hard for your loved one to get to social gatherings or attend medical appointments? Do they need help arranging transport to stay connected?

What to do if you spot these signs

The conversation about needing care must be handled carefully and respectfully. Find a time when your loved one is calm and well and you are free of the distractions of mobile devices and children.

Ask open questions. Talk calmly and prompt them with some of the things you’ve observed. Avoid judgement and make sure they know that the decision about care is theirs to make.

Sometimes it helps to make a joint appointment with a doctor or specialist to discuss the concerns and get an objective professional opinion based on what’s right for their needs.

A good place to start is with a GP or family doctor, who can easily see your loved one’s changing care needs and can recommend extra support if needed.

The GP may even be available to conduct a home visit to see first-hand the extra support needed.

Acting early saves care headaches later

Putting support in place early means there’s a greater chance that your loved one can stay safely at home, which can be made possible through accessing in-home care to help with services such as domestic assistance, social support, personal care or home and garden services.

There are government subsidies you and your parents can apply for to help keep living in their own home. In fact, it’s cheaper for the government if you remain living in your own home than if you go into an aged care home.

Keep in mind that there’s often a wait-list to access government subsidies.

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