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How to Help Aging Parents Make Decisions

senior woman and daughter baking

Are you concerned about your aging parents’ memory loss and worrying about their ability to make sound decisions for themselves? Almost everyone experiences some forgetfulness as they age. If it doesn’t interfere with their ability to carry on with daily activities, there’s no cause for alarm. But if their memory loss is caused by a progressive condition such as Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it will become increasingly difficult for your loved one to look after themselves or manage their affairs.

What are signs your aging parents need help? 

Their driving is impaired. Cognitive decline can lead to erratic driving, becoming lost in familiar places, or nodding off at the wheel. Aging parents will be understandably reluctant to lose their independence by giving up their car keys, so you may need a physician or occupational therapist to give them an official driving assessment.

Their home is unsafe. Conditions like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s can affect physical strength and coordination, increasing the risk of a fall. These health concerns can also make home maintenance more challenging, especially if the house and yard are large. Elderly parents affected by cognitive impairment may also wander out of the house and not remember how to return home. Without 24/7 supervision, you may have to talk to your parents about moving to an Assisted Living or a Memory Care community.     

They’re taking medications incorrectly. Forgetting to take medications is a strong sign of memory loss. Irregular use, incorrect dosages and duplicate doses are a serious concern when aging parents are affected by memory loss. If a family member can’t help Mom or Dad manage their medications, you may need the help of a licensed professional.   

They’re making bad financial decisions. Research shows the ability of a person to make sound financial decisions is impaired even in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Your elderly parents may look and act completely normal, but they might be unable to differentiate between an honest proposal or a scam. Because of this, they’re more vulnerable to financial abuse. You may need to ask an objective third-party, such as a legal or financial professional, to help manage their affairs.

They seem withdrawn or depressed. Aging parents who know their health is changing may not want to openly admit it. To keep from being a burden, or to keep their condition a secret, they may stop interacting with family members and friends. Changes in personality, antisocial behavior, and depression are signs it’s time to call in help from a counselor or other mental health professional.

Navigating The Journey

Stepping in for aging parents, especially in critical situations like the ones described above, is a challenge. If you’re fortunate, your parents might realize decision-making is becoming an issue and agree to address the problem with your help. However, most elderly parents will resist being “parented” in a way that signals to them  a loss of independence and self-determination.

Start by talking through your concerns with other family members, your parents’ physician, spiritual advisor, or a friend. The Memory Care team at Artis Senior Living can also point you toward resources to help you learn about memory loss and dementia, signs to look out for, and helpful things you can do. Being well-informed will help you better understand your parents’ options for dementia care.

Establish where your parents are on their memory loss journey. Have they been diagnosed with dementia? Do they need in-home care or home safety modifications? Would they benefit from arranged transportation? Would social interaction with others their age be an antidote to depression? Do they need to be seen by a gerontologist to assess their health, and help them understand the need for change? 

What to Do if Aging Parents Need Help

If Mom and Dad don’t want help, but their memory loss isn’t affecting their ability to make decisions for themselves, you can continue to be a support and resource.

  • Share your concerns with your parents over several conversations. 
  • Take a nonconfrontational approach, starting with less intrusive suggestions.  
  • Start by addressing one or two critical needs.
  • Keep adding on until they have all the help they truly need.
  • Show them how to reach you for help at any time of the day or night.
  • Create a caregiver plan with your family members.
  • Stay alert for any changes in their condition.
  • Prepare for future options for care.

How Can You Help Make Decisions for Your Aging Parents?

With progressive cognitive decline, aging parents will eventually become unable to make decisions for themselves. It’s important to understand that the laws that regulate the health care industry are very strict. You must establish legal permissions before they’re needed, or you’ll be barred from getting your parents’ medical records, talking to their providers, or directing their care. Here are three medical and legal documents you’ll need to ensure are prepared well ahead of time.

HIPAA Authorization Form – HIPAA stands for the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act. This form authorizes your parents’ doctors to communicate with you regarding your parents’ health status and billing information. You can get this form from your parents’ physician, and all they need to do is to fill out and sign it.

Medical Power of Attorney — This document grants you the ability to make decisions on behalf of your parents in the event they’re incapacitated. It must be prepared while they still have the mental acuity to give you these powers or it won’t be valid.  

Advance Care Directive — Sometimes called a living will, this document records your parents’ wishes for emergency or palliative care before a medical crisis strikes.  

The Artis Way

Artis Senior Living leads the way in Memory Care and Assisted Living communities for older adults. Our philosophy of care is called The Artis Way. We offer an individualized approach to care, and start by building positive relationships with loved ones, their adult children, and other family members to be empowered in care. We also offer insight, education, and support for family caregivers, and invite you to attend a caregiver and community event at an Artis community near you.

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