As children, we look to our parents for guidance and support, and as we grow up, we become more independent. Throughout our maturing adult and senior years, we continue to display the fierce independence that characterizes the older generation. Yet, we may not consider how our parents are functioning as they get older. At what point do parents need our help?

Unopened bills, bounced checks and bouts of forgetfulness are among the first tip-offs that an elderly person has become less mentally alert. Changes in a parent’s mental ability, energy levels and mobility often occur so gradually that children remain unaware. When one spouse covers up for the other, problems can go undetected for years.
If you suspect that your parents are losing control of their lives, you might start paying closer attention. Signs of trouble often include moldy food in the refrigerator, unfilled prescriptions tucked away in a drawer, or an overdrawn bank account. If your parents appear less able to perform simple activities such as walking, dressing and eating, don’t assume the symptoms are part of normal aging. There are many correctable causes of apparent faltering in the aged.
It’s also very important to enlist your parents’ help, so they know you’re not trying to take away their independence or take control of their lives.
The following questions can be a basis for discussion with your parents, assuring them you will act in their best interests should they become incapacitated:

  • Where would you like to live if you become ill or disabled?
  • How do you take care of routine home maintenance?
  • Do you have trouble climbing stairs?
  • Can you comfortably meet your expenses?
  • Do you have adequate health insurance? Serious illness could wipe out savings if parents don’t have supplemental coverage.
  • Who will handle your affairs if you become incapacitated? Raising the idea that parents may someday be physically or mentally unfit to make their own decisions can be disturbing. What is worse is the time, expense and process of petitioning a court to declare them incompetent if they have not assigned power of attorney to a trusted loved one.
  • Where do you keep important documents and who is your attorney? Trying to uncover this information during an emergency can be a nightmare.

It’s not easy facing the fact that our parents get older and the likelihood that they may become somewhat incapacitated at some point. Preparing in advance can minimize the family’s stress during these transitions.