Are You in Denial About Your Aging Parents?

Adult children tend to vacillate between two extremes when it comes to aging parents. At one end is panic and being overprotective. On the other side is denial. Both are natural, but it is more helpful for everyone when we can find a balance. 

Aging parents and their children often experience periods of denial. No one wants to see the changes of aging and acknowledge they might need to make bigger changes. As children, we want our parents to always be the strong ones. Coming to terms with aging means facing our own mortality.

On the other hand, however, we may overreact to changes we see or make assumptions about what our parents need. We can start to see them as dependent, and almost begin treating them like children. Typically, this comes from love and concern. But, it can do more harm than good. 

So, how do we determine if we’re overreacting or denying what is really happening? Start by reviewing our warning signs checklist:

Have your aging parents…

  • Experienced a fall? (Most times, when a fall comes to your attention it isn’t the first one.) Or, had unexplained injuries and bruising?
  • Decreased activity, withdrawn from social activities? Does he/she appear fearful of going out or participating in regular activities or exercise?
  • Exhibited forgetfulness or memory loss? They may try to cover this up, but you might spot difficulties managing bills or regular tasks, repeating questions, forgetting words, or letting another person speak on their behalf.
  • Neglected personal hygiene or household duties? Look for subtle signs in personal appearance and the home.
  • Changed eating habits? Lost significant weight? Started eating mainly snacks or convenience foods, eating less, hoarding items or keeping expired/spoiled food?
  • Missed appointments or not filled prescriptions?
  • Made unusual purchases or decisions that seem uncharacteristic or in bad judgment?
  • Shown signs of depression and loneliness?

What to Do

The next step if you have spotted warning signs is figuring out what to do. Not doing anything won’t make the problem disappear; it will actually make it snowball. Here’s a plan to help you address issues proactively without panicking.

1. Have a series of conversations with your aging parents.

Don’t wait for a crisis. Talk, even in general terms, about wishes and plans. When you’re in denial that your parents will ever get older and they’re in denial they’ll ever need help, you’re all waiting for the crisis. This makes conversations a million times harder. When you’re in a crisis, you’ll have to decide things in a hurry. By not avoiding the conversations, you buy yourself the luxury of time. Everyone can think through things more rationally.

Read more about why having “the talk” is so difficult and some of our suggestions. You can also check out our five approaches to talking about senior care specifically.

2. Get a professional opinion.

If possible, we highly recommend your family get a care management assessment. This can be done at any stage of aging to help get everyone on the same page and be prepared. Or, if you don’t feel ready or your aging parents refuse, start with a consultation. You can share the signs you’ve seen so that the care manager can give you ideas. 

An assessment will give everyone a better picture of what is happening as well as a personalized action plan. Getting an evaluation and advice from a third party helps separate the emotions from reality. A professional also has the expertise to spot subtle warning signs and give you clarity on what is really happening.

3. Set up a plan for monitoring and ongoing evaluation.

Whether you get an assessment or not, you’ve likely acknowledged there are some concerns. Therefore, someone needs to be visiting and calling to check in regularly. Regular visits will help you have a baseline for how your aging parents function. This is useful because it is the change more than an absolute standard that helps you spot concerns. For example, your Mom might be fastidious about cleaning and appearance. So, you might think her home looks fine compared to your own, but can see something is abnormal for her.

If your aging parents will accept some help around the house, caregivers can act as an extra set of eyes and ears. We create a personalized care plan for our clients, which includes items for the caregivers to accomplish as well as observe. You can also set up a schedule for care management visits, or have a care manager attend appointments with your aging parents.

With a plan for monitoring, you won’t be in denial about what is happening but you can also have peace of mind.

4. Arm yourself with knowledge and do what you can to prepare.

Read up on eldercare issues (sign up for our monthly emails for the latest updates). Understand your loved one’s medical situation. Learn more about their diagnoses and any medications they take. Try to attend medical appointments together. 

Gather a list of local resources. Take time to get paperwork organized and know where your aging parents keep their records. Ideally, you will have key information and documents stored securely online so you can quickly access anything you need. This might also be the time to help your aging parents simplify. For example, clean out extra paperwork, set up automatic billing, and look at eliminating unnecessary services and accounts.

Want to be prepared?

Get our free Eldercare Checklist for the vital steps to take to get organized, deal with the stage you're in today, and be ready for what's ahead.