By Julie Chetney, Director of Senior Services

Dad can't get along all by himself in that great big house much longer. Or can he?  Moreover, how will I know?

Have you found yourself asking any of these questions? If so, you are not alone. This is a common worry shared by a generation, an entire middle-age demographic layer watching nervously as there aging parents' ability to live independently declines. 

Trying to assess an older family member, friend, neighbor, or relative's ability to live on his or her own is a painful and difficult process. It's hard for anyone to accept that his or her parents are no longer in charge.  The beginning steps start with initiating conversation. 

Take time to tune into aspects of aging parents' lives that we normally regard as their own business. This is not easy for anyone and it's even harder when the parent lives far from the child. The best thing the adult child can do when beginning this process is to do their best at exploring all options, while preceding with calmness and clarity every step of the way.

Too often, a crisis makes the situation clear. Often times, especially when children live out of town, it is when the parent or relative is hospitalized that it all suddenly becomes clear that they can't live alone anymore.

There are certain areas of daily life that always need to be monitored more closely to decide if someone is doing well on their own. Areas such as using the phone, shopping, preparing food, keeping the house clean, doing laundry, transportation, medications, and managing finances are all abilities that contribute to one’s ability to maintain independence in the home.

Whether you are a child, friend, or visitor in an older person’s home, there are several signs that may indicate a persons decline in these everyday and important functions. 

An Empty refrigerator: is a reason to ask questions since poor nutrition is usually one of the first things that many notice with an aging parent. Eating improperly or not at all usually result in significant weight loss.

Personal care: and grooming habits is another area that tends to decline when a person is having difficulty at home alone. Someone who may be overwhelmed with the duties of keeping house often overlooks maintaining personal care.

Potential Falls: A problem many elderly folks have to contend with; be aware of bruises and other signs of trauma. Falls are both cause and symptom of an inability to function independently. They can signal general weakness, balance problems or other medical troubles.  Not everyone will cheerfully tell the family or a friend about an embarrassing or frightening fall.  Indications that a person is at risk for falls include difficulty walking and inability to get up from a chair without pushing off.

Signs of Depression: A very common and devastating but often-treatable affliction among our elderly, depression can surface often when one begins to withdraw socially.  Many times, people will cut back socially to cover up hearing difficulties or other disabilities that they want to remain secret.

Financial Struggles: Miss managing the checkbook, overdue bills lying around, or giving money away frivolously, are just a few signs that a loved one may be struggling at home. Occasionally you will find the person who gives money away to every junk mail solicitation that lands in the mailbox. Be aware of talk about prizes and sweepstakes, this should send an immediate alarm.

Forgetfulness: Unusual behavior can signal the loss of memory while forgetfulness signifies serious decline. Be aware for lost keys, wallets, money, or other important possessions. Less drastic memory loss can still be serious, as in the classic hazard of forgetting to turn the stove off. Casually checking the kitchen cabinets for blackened pots can alert you.

Remember it's not unusual for people to try to hide problems. If a parent or loved one insists everything is OK in the face of all evidence, do not ignore the red flags. 

Whatever you choose to do, and however you choose to go about it, remember that everything must be done with respect for the person as a decision-maker and as a human being. Also, if you have concerns or questions, please contact someone who can listen to you and help provide you with some information or resources if they appear to be needed.

A good place to start is the Oswego County Office for the Aging (315-349-3484) or you can contact us right here at Bishop’s Commons (315-349-0799) and we can provide you with information and direct you to some resources in our area. Sometimes the hardest part is making that first phone call.