How to Know When It’s Time to Intervene with Aging Parents

Your mom and dad have lived in their home for a long time. You’ve noticed that they’ve started having difficulty getting around and managing the daily requirements of maintaining a house. When is it best to step in and how can you do it without stepping on toes?

More than 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65 each day, and 90 percent want to spend their senior years in their homes. Aging in place has its psychological benefits for seniors because it allows them to remain socially active in their communities. It also saves on finances, as assisted living facilities cost an average of $49,635 annually.

But as time takes its toll on bodies and minds, aging in place becomes risky—if not problematic. If your parents aren’t ready to budge from their place of residence, yet you notice a decline in their home upkeep or self-care, it’s best to be proactive before a crisis occurs.

This requires more than a phone call to check in with them. Their answer to “How are you doing?” will most likely be “We’re fine.” To make staying in their home viable, you’ll need to go on a fact-finding mission.

Your assessment can take place during one or more in-person visits. Spend time with your parents as they move through their daily routines. Are they unsteady on the steps from the front stoop when they go out to get the newspaper? Do they climb on a wobbly stepstool to reach items stored in the cupboard? Did their lost car keys show up in the refrigerator?

Once you’ve gathered the facts, it’s time to have a talk. While parents are never eager to hear their abilities are becoming compromised, a presentation of your findings—stated within the context of addressing potential trouble spots so they can safely stay in their home—will bring them on board.

Here are some issues you may need to address when sitting down with your parents:

1. Make modifications to aid mobility. Point out where you’ve observed any instability in your parents’ movement as they move through their daily routines. Share ways to address how to improve safety and facilitate their mobility. Installing a handrail along the steps will improve stair-use stability. Insist on a safe step stool with one step only. If they often use hard-to-access items, move them to a counter or tabletop.

2. Up the wattage. As we age, we need more light in order to see adequately. Good lighting is a key safety feature. While mom and dad may keep the lights dim to save on the electric bill, encourage them to increase the wattage of light bulbs in high-use areas, such as near the chair where mom sits to read or the desk where dad pays bills. For hard to reach lamps, consider touch-sensitive or clapper-type lamps. A nightlight to illuminate the path from the bed to the bathroom is an added precaution. If their dog tends to lie in the pathway from the bed to the bathroom at night, a glow-in-the-dark collar can keep him from becoming a tripping hazard.

3. Delegate financial and household duties. If you sense that your parents are becoming overwhelmed with managing the bills and general household maintenance, talk with them about how best to delegate those duties. It may be time to assemble a team of helpers. Do they have a handyman they can call on? Is it time for them to relegate finances to a family member to whom they give power of attorney? It’s now easy to remotely assist with bill paying by setting up online banking. Help them create a “treasure map” of where important records, documents and belongings are kept.

4. Attack the clutter. Keepsakes are often what makes a house feel like a home. But cherished belongings accumulated over a lifetime morph into clutter. Clutter takes up precious space needed for moving around the house safely. To make the case for decluttering, role-play with your parents that you’re first-time guests in the house. With fresh eyes, have them notice where stacks of paper have accumulated, dusty trinkets have collected and miscellaneous items have gathered.

We tend to be complacent as long as everyone is functioning well. But no one thinks they’ll get sick until they get sick, or become injured until they fall. If you see potential problems and head them off by having “the talk” while things are status quo, acceptable plans that everyone agrees to can be established.

Lynda Shrager, OTR, MSW, CAPS is the author of Age In Place: A Guide to Modifying, Organizing, and Decluttering Mom and Dad’s Home (Bull Publishing, April 4, 2018). Her newspaper column, Mom’s RX, has appeared in countless newspapers across the country, and she is a featured columnist for Everyday Health, one of the country’s leading online consumer health websites. She combines her expertise as an occupational therapist, a Master’s level social worker, professional organizer and certified aging in place specialist to pursue her passion of providing therapeutic care in the patient’s home environment and in educating their caregivers. Learn more at otherwisehealthy.com.

44 comments

Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M7 months ago

Julie W, this is yet ANOTHER reason why stay-at-home parents or those who care for their aging parents deserve a paycheck! We literally sacrifice EVERYTHING for the sake of our loved ones-career, social life, paycheck, even the ability to pee in private-and for what? A lower-paying job, less in Social Security, NO retirement savings, nonstop housework/caretaking (which results in MAJOR burnout!), and no chance of being able to afford to retire ourselves when/if we ever go back to a paying job! And yet when you outsource all the work we do, it's worth a paycheck, yet when WE do it, we're not worth a plugged nickel! What is WRONG with this picture? It's high time that America recognized the work we do in raising our children and caring for our aging parents as the pay-deserving work that it is!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE8 months ago

Thank you

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One Heart i
One Heart inc8 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Amanda McConnell
Amanda McConnell8 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda McConnell
Amanda McConnell8 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Julie W
Julie W8 months ago

Oops, care costs $1,000 a WEEK, not month. He should be so lucky!

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federico b

Grazie

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Mike R
Mike R8 months ago

Thanks

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