Caring for our Carers
As a young child you imagine your parents to be invincible. You look up to them as superheroes with answers to all questions and solutions to all problems. This perception wanes AS we grow older; however it is still very difficult to see one’s parents’ age. The role reversal of care giving from the parent to the child is challenging for both parties. Helping parents adjust to old age is a fine art of adjustment and balance. As a child, it is difficult to watch a parent struggle with the challenges of old age and yet strive to maintain his/her independence. There are some give away signs that you need to keep in mind to know if your parents require closer attention.
Are they looking after themselves?
Pay close attention to your parents’ appearance. Are they dressing themselves appropriately? Are their clothes washed? Are they facing trouble with daily chores like bathing, brushing etc. if they live independently, it is also important to note if they can adequately handle all the challenges of maintaining a house. Are the lights working? Are the plants in the garden dead or overgrown? Are the rooms well-kempt or messy? A big change in the upkeep of the house or in self-care can be an indication of a mental illness such as dementia, depression or other medical concerns.
Do they seem ‘blue’?
Geriatric depression is a very common disorder in the older population. Life-transitions like retirement, separation from children, loss of spouse, ill-health etc. leave the older adults susceptible to loneliness and depression. Are they interested in activities like they used to be? Do they seem to be getting adequate sleep and appetite? Do they seem listless and tired to you? If they seem to be in a persistently low mood, they might be suffering from depression.
Is there evidence of memory loss?
Some amount of memory loss or forgetfulness is common during the aging process. However, memory loss associated with alzheimers or other kinds of dementia would be more pronounced. If you find instances wherein they are forgetting common words, familiar routes and more than simply the odd appointment or a date – the situation may warrant professional help.
What you can do –
If you do observe signs that bother you, it is important for you to discuss your concerns with them in a calm manner. Always remember, while your worry about their safety is valid, elders do not normally like a threat to their independence. In such a scenario, it is important that you broach this discussion in a sensitive manner.
In an advanced age, regular health check-ups are a must. It is important that you ensure that your parents receive regular and appropriate medical attention. It is also very helpful for them to have an emergency number to call in case of any requirement.
Old people are vulnerable and their safety is of prime concern. If they are living on their own, it is important to make sure that their safety is not compromised is any way. The house-help etc. should be hired only after checking references.
Few simple steps on your part like paying our parents regular visits, organizing entertainment such as taking them on outings, watching their favourite shows with them, taking their opinions in important life decisions, getting them to bond with their grandchildren and keeping a watchful eye out for their health and well-being is all that is required on our part to make sure that our parents have a happy, safe and fulfilled golden years.
Dr Samir Parikh
The author of this blog is Director – Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare.