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“Is this normal?” 5 Common Questions about Aging Parents

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Facing the uncertainties of caring for an aging parent can create anxiety for grown children. As one enters a new stage in the child/parent relationship, challenges arise. It’s most important to keep the lines of communication open with your mom or dad, lean on trusted family, friends and experts, and don’t be afraid to ask those important questions that surface—chances are you know someone who’s maneuvered the situation beforehand and can provide valuable wisdom.

Here are 5 common questions about aging parents:

  1. Why is Mom all of a sudden so honest with me?
    Your parent may surprise you with an extremely honest confession or a deeply sentimental statement. This is very normal. As we age we become more comfortable in who we are, and as we near later years we may feel the need to get something off our chest. Whether it’s an admission to something they did years ago that they’ve carried with them, or a heartfelt message of appreciation and love, sometimes parents crave an intimate moment where they can comfortably express themselves. While it might surprise you, embrace the experience and allow your parent to fully engage with you—it might just strengthen your relationship.
  2. Dad won’t return my calls and seems secretive when we interact. What is he hiding? Is he simply busy or annoyed with me?
    A parent’s worst fear is that they’ll become a burden on their grown children. If your parent becomes distant, you may need to make a greater effort to connect with them. It’s hard to not take their reserve personally, but their detachedness is a call for you to reach out. Your parent may be afraid to leave home because everyday tasks like bathing and dressing have become challenging, or they’re worried about falling or feeling unsafe in public. Don’t take it personally—take it as a push to engage more.
  3. Why can’t Mom understand it’s time to stop driving?
    Giving up independence is really difficult for anyone, and if you think about it, our first big taste of freedom is experienced when we’re handed the keys to the family car as a teenager. Driving represents independence in all aspects of life, and giving it up means a parent has to rely on someone else for transportation. It can be difficult to have the conversation with a parent that results in their handing over the keys to a son or daughter, but relinquishing this privilege can keep your parent and others safe.
  4. When we chat he seems fine, but I’ve noticed Dad isn’t keeping up with hygiene like he used to and he’s lost weight. Should I be worried?
    These signals point to a parent failing to accomplish simple, everyday tasks that we may take for granted. If a parent appears to be poorly dressed or groomed, laziness is not to blame. Your mom may try to cover up a bruise from a fall in her kitchen, but this “Oh, it’s nothing!” black and blue could point to a larger issue. You may be upset or irritated, but try to create a comfortable conversation where you can express concern and discuss the issue as adults. If you start the conversation on a soft note, chances are your parent will open up and share with you what’s at the root of the issue. They may have lost weight because cooking has become difficult. Or, their bathroom is no longer safe and they need equipment installed to prevent future falls. Don’t panic, but also don’t ignore the little things—they can represent a symptom of a larger issue that needs your attention.
  5. Mom looks great, but more than once she’s forgotten our past conversations and this quickly agitates her. What should I do?
    Sometimes an aging parent’s appearance isn’t what concerns a child—issues arise in conversation and social interactions that raise red flags and cause worry. Memory loss or early signs of dementia can be tricky to catch and difficult to digest. This issue requires an extremely delicate and inclusive conversation where you approach your parent in a respectful, loving manner. Sometimes memory loss/dementia can make it even more difficult for parents to see that they need assistance. Speak to a memory specialist or your family doctor first and prepare in advance for the conversation—it will be tough—but it’s a critical conversation.