Q. My parents are in their late 70s and live in Delray Beach. Though I don’t live near them, I speak to them a few times a week and see them several times a year — and my children go down on their own for visits during their winter breaks. Other than a little arthritis and a few aches and pains, they are perfectly fine and are thoroughly enjoying their retirement and family.
I secretly worry about them — many of my friends are actively involved in their parents day-to day lives and I want to make sure I’m not in “denial” and overdoing it by sending my kids to visit them.
How do you know if things are “too much’’ or if they need a little help?
Eric G., Long Island, N.Y.
A. You are fortunate to have parents who are both healthy and happy in their retirement. Perhaps you should take your cues from your parents and not worry too much about their welfare until you have to. Your occasional visits and those of your children offer numerous opportunities to observe first-hand any changes in their status.
But your concern is certainly understandable. Typically, our parents don’t want us to know about health or aging problems for fear of us meddling in their lives and losing their independence. That’s understandable, too. There are, however, some signs that we can pick up even over the phone. A casual remark about a fender-bender, a trip-and-fall story, expressions of apathy or increasing forgetfulness and confusion are examples of red flags that are signals to get involved.
Given your concerns, the physical distance between your parents’ home and yours, and your close relationship with them (I’m assuming that you will become their primary family caregiver if required) I recommend having a casual but frank discussion with your parents about their preferences for how they want their personal and health matters handled as they age and in the event that one or both become incapacitated. It will provide you the opportunity to express your concerns and desire to help them in the future. The best time to have “the talk” is now, when there is no crisis that requires quick decisions and immediate action.
Of course, everyone’s health is good until it isn’t and that could change with a single event such as a stroke or heart attack. If such a crisis were to occur, would you be prepared? Do you know their physicians? What medications they take? Where their most recent lab results are kept? The location of their health directives and other important documents? The answers to these questions will determine how difficult or easy it will be for you to be an effective caregiver and advocate for your parents.
For now, take advantage of your parents’ good health and active lives and do what’s necessary, with the support and blessing of your parents, to plan a smooth transition into your future role as a caregiver whenever it is needed. In the meantime, enjoy your vacations and good times.
Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.