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Assess elderly parents' needs before planning a move

It's the thing adult children of elderly parents often dread the most - moving their mother and/or father into a more suitable living situation. While this is rarely an easy task, it can be simplified by laying the proper groundwork ahead of time.

Whenever you are planning major changes for older relatives, communication is key to success. Many senior citizens are very fixed in their routines of decades past, so you might find it easier to initiate conversations about their preferences prior to actual need. Then, you can return to the more difficult topics periodically to allow them to adjust to the ideas you propose. Below are some other suggestions for transitioning your parents to another living situation.

Involve your parents' doctors

Ideally, they can get referred to a gerontologist, a physician who specializes in age-related dimensions of change over a lifespan. A gerontologist is best-equipped to assess elderly parents' physical and cognitive needs.

If, however, your parents would be most comfortable seeing their regular internal medicine or family physician for these purposes, that's fine. Just make sure that you explain what you are attempting to ascertain, i.e., determining the level of care and supervision that your parents need now and in the immediate future.

Red flags to watch out for in the elderly

It can be difficult initially to recognize some of the subtler signs of cognitive and physical decline. Often, adult children don't sense a problem until one or more of the following occur:

  • Parents' personal hygiene deteriorates. As people age, changes in their physical conditions and the onset of dementia can make it difficult to get in and out of the bathtub or even fear bathing and washing the hair. If formerly-fastidious parents now appear unkempt or unclean, it's often an indication that they need assistance to accomplish basic hygiene tasks.
  • Bills go unpaid. While it's possible that a lack of resources could also be the culprit, if the senior citizens' resources and expenses remain static, their failing memories may be what led to the water or electricity getting shut off.
  • They have safety lapses. Perhaps you notice that your mom now forgets to turn off the stove or that your father frequently forgets to lock the doors and windows. When your parents' safety is jeopardized, you may have to act swiftly to avoid harm coming to them.
  • They can no longer manage beloved pets' care. Whether it's the stench of an unemptied litter box or empty and dry food and water bowls, this is a major red flag that your parents can no longer handle things on their own.

Once you notice that your parents' abilities to care for themselves have declined, it's time to make some hard decisions. Seeking legal advice and obtaining a power of attorney and medical proxy may be the next steps you need to take.

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