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October 4, 2010 by Tammy Fletcher, M.A.

Most of us in the Baby Boomer generation have witnessed our parents' aging process. We may notice them tiring more easily, or experiencing chronic aches and pains. More serious concerns include memory loss or confusion, falls, or struggling to get through activities of daily living like cooking and personal hygiene.  I recall during the last years of both my parents' lives how startled I felt each time the phone rang late at night, fearful of bad news. They had moved to a tiny town in the south, idyllic during their active retirement years. As they moved into their 80's, their distance and isolation from the big city became more and more of a worry.

What are some signs to watch for with your aging parents? What questions should you ask in order to help them stay safe and as healthy as possible?

    * Unsteadiness, dizziness, falls:  A fall in an elderly person can be troublesome and even dangerous. Might your parents benefit from grab bars, shower chairs, or other devices designed to prevent falls and injuries? Or is the family home with stairs and slippery floors no longer the best option?

    * Confusion, loss of memory, wandering: This might be as simple as those "senior moments" we all have after a certain age, or can be early signs of dementia.  Keep communication open with your parents, and encourage regular medical care.

    * Inconsistent use of medication: Whether due to forgetfulness, depression, or lack of funds to pay for medicine, consistent use of medication can be a major factor in overall physical and mental health. Inexpensive pill dispensers and notes or reminders of medication dosage are a couple of simple ways to help keep organized.

    * Depression or other changes in mood: Life transitions are often stressful periods in a person's life. One elderly client in her mid-80's told me "All my friends are passing away. It's lonely. I can't be as active as I used to." The loss of a spouse or friends can create deep sadness and even depression.  Keep communication open with your elderly parent and help him or her find support if needed.

If you are nearby, staying aware of your parents' wellbeing is obviously easier. If you live farther away, another family member, neighbor, friend, or professional caregiver can help keep you actively involved. It may be helpful to learn about resources in your parents' community for the elderly – exercise classes, social groups, church activities, or other ways they can be as active as they would like to be. Additionally, some elderly people may eventually benefit from living in a retirement community, or require the higher level of care available in facilities such as skilled nursing homes. It may be time to discuss what may be some difficult topics, such as healthcare decisions, safe living arrangements, and financial issues. These subjects may

One last thing to be aware of, this time for you. This can be a stressful time for you as well. Take care of yourself to avoid caregiver burnout. Ask for help when needed, talk to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor, and don't forget your own needs.  It may be a time of transition and change for your parents and family, but with open communication and ample support, it can be a time that enriches your lives.


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