By Scott Fleisch
Pay attention to the signs along the journey of your parent’s aging process. As our parents age conditions generally change slowly over the year, until the changing condition becomes a major situation. Which usually comes about very quickly. There are always many signs along the way to watch for and pay attention to. Unfortunately there isn’t a list of signs or indicators. It’s more of a process that happens in our role as the children to our aging parent or parents. Our role can become Guardian and advocate as our parents age and become more vulnerable. Have a conversation with your parents and tell them you want to become more involved in their lives in ways you weren’t growing up. Such as finances, environment and life conditions. If your parents act out of character from what you have always known, take notice. It may be part of the aging process. Or a midlife crisis but also consider it something you need to take into consideration. For example. If your parents want to sell the house from your childhood you grew up in this could be a warning sign. This is also where your role changes in your parent child relationship. Our parents need an advocate and protector to guide and intervene if necessary. It makes sense for your parents to sell the house that is too big for them and has become a burden to keep up. If their next move is to go cross-country and live with friends they met on the internet you might want to become more involved and consider this a big sign. But if they say they want to buy a motorhome and visit all the national parks in our country this would be a great opportunity for you as guardian of your parents to guide and protect them.
When my father came to me and told me he decided to sell our home my siblings and I grew up in, and move to the other side of the state with a girlfriend and friends I should have considered this a red flag warning sign. I did try to talk to my dad about this and he told me he had it all handled and he was an adult and deserved to make his own decisions. This was out of character for Dad, he was always open to discuss decisions with his family. Also, it simply did not feel right to me. I should have insisted on becoming more involved and oversee dad’s finances and environment he was moving into. This was my duty as his son. Over the next few years I became less involved with my Dad’s life and was not advocating or protecting him at all. When mom died of liver cancer and Dad said he wasn’t going to attend the service that should have been a warning sign itself. The signs were there but I didn’t bother to look. Dad had early Alzheimer’s and was not making good decisions. His girlfriend and friends and their families drained my dad’s entire life savings. Used his monthly Medicare and pension from years of work as their own disposable income. After not seeing my dad for a period of time we got a call that he had fallen in the shower more than once. His girlfriend of 20 years dropped him off at the hospital called me and said she was done. I neglected to pay attention to the signs before it became a life-changing situation. The changes and there signs where there, I just didn’t act on them until it became a situation. With a phone call from his girlfriend my life changed in an instant. I became dad’s advocate, protector and caregiver. If I had stepped in and protected my dad and oversaw his care earlier he might not have taken a fall in the shower. If I had simply helped monitor dad’s finances he might not have been taking advantage by roommates that lived off his income for years.
A couple guidelines I wish I had followed are simply; what would my parents do in their most clear and sound time, and what advice would my parents give me if the situation was reversed. Remember, our parents protected and took care of us in our vulnerable years. Now it’s our duty and privilege to take care of our parents and seniors in vulnerable times and situations.