Take a look at your parents. Seriously, take a really good look at them. These are the same two people who brought you into the world, cared for you, fed you, made sure you got a good education and a healthy foundation to start life on your own. When you hit each milestone, they were there for you. When you graduated from school, got all excited about the prom and got your first job, who was there to be your cheering section?
You may not have noticed right away but what used to be automatic for your parents to do and accomplish, as they age might take more effort for them. Knowing they were for many years your pillars of strength, it might be very difficult for them to ask for help. Indeed, they may not even be fully aware they need help. This means that it might be up to you to look for the physical and mental signs that they need help. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some specific age that all parents being to show signs of aging? But there are so many things that factor into the decline, there is no particular age to make your job easy in trying to figure this out. Health, lifestyle, history, genetics and mental outlook all play a part in how rapidly or slowly a person’s decline may be.
Eyes and Reflexes
All of us will need reading glasses at some point. Perhaps you already do. This is normal, however, when does the need for reading glasses turn into “Mom, you can’t drive anymore!” To assess that, you will actually have to drive with your mom and dad to determine. Observe their ability to stay within lanes and judge distances between cars and other objects, such as people, sidewalks and trees. Also be mindful of how quickly your father is able to react to a potential threat on the road. Reflexes are as important as the ability to see objects.
Bones and Balance
While it’s normal to shrink a little as bones age, if your mother is breaking bones easily, this is a problem. She could have osteoporosis, which is treatable, and also potentially dangerous if she were to fracture a hip. With frail bones comes loss of balance and while osteoporosis might not be the cause, an unsteady gait could definitely be cause for concern as your father could fall down the stairs. Calcium and Vitamin D help, and in some cases the doctor might suggest something stronger.
Heart, Lungs and Blood Circulation
As we age, so do our organs. The heart isn’t as strong and efficient; the lungs take in less oxygen with each breath and the blood circulates a little slower than it did when we were young and spry. Initially a lack of energy is what you’ll notice in them, but over time, any one of those seemingly benign things can turn into an issue almost overnight. Of course smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet can and will exacerbate any organ’s ability to function properly. If you notice your mom having difficulty breathing, edema in your dad’s legs or one of them complains they are feeling “woozy” pretty often, don’t wait for their annual physical, schedule one right away.
An evitable but unfortunate fact of life is that our brains will not be as sharp as they were when we were young. Your mom forgetting where she placed the car keys or hearing your dad repeat the same story again and again is in and of itself not cause for concern. If however, mom is having difficulty remembering how to get to the store she’s been shopping in for 25 years or your dad is having trouble differentiating between your son and your brother, these are serious signs that need to be evaluated immediately. A senior who doesn’t have his or her wits about them is vulnerable to becoming the victim of anything from abuse to fraud.
While some decline is normal, others need to be looked after immediately. Your parents won’t be as agile or mentally sharp as they were when you were younger. It will be up to you to determine whether any of this is part of the normal aging process or the symptom of a larger problem. It is important to have this evaluated so that neither is a hazard to him or herself or others.