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As your parents get older, how can you be sure they're taking care of themselves and staying healthy?
When you visit your parents, start by considering these questions:
Pay attention to your parents' appearance. Failure to keep up with daily routines — such as bathing and brushing teeth — could indicate dementia, depression or physical impairments.
Also pay attention to your parents' home. Are the lights working? Is the heat on? Is the yard overgrown?
Any changes in the way your parents do things around the house could provide clues to their health. For example, scorched pots could mean your parents are forgetting about food cooking on the stove. Issues such as failing to pay bills, having problems shopping and neglecting housework also might be signs of depression, dementia or other concerns.
Everyone forgets things from time to time. Modest memory problems are a fairly common part of aging, and sometimes medication side effects or underlying conditions contribute to memory loss.
There's a difference, though, between normal changes in memory and the type of memory loss that makes it hard to do everyday things such as driving and shopping. Signs of this type of memory loss might include:
Take a look around your parents' home, keeping an eye out for any red flags.
Do your parents have difficulty navigating a narrow stairway? Has either parent fallen recently? Are they able to read directions on medication containers? When asked, can your parents explain how they set up or take their medications?
Driving can be challenging for older adults. If your parents become confused while driving or you're concerned about their ability to drive safely — especially if they have experienced a moving violation or an accident — it might be time to stop driving.
Losing weight without trying could be a sign that something's wrong. Weight loss could be related to many factors, including:
Note your parents' moods and ask how they're feeling. A drastically different mood or outlook could be a sign of depression or other health concerns.
Talk to your parents about their activities. Are they connecting with friends? Have they maintained interest in hobbies and other daily activities? Are they involved in organizations, clubs or faith-based communities?
If a parent gives up on being with others, it could be a sign of a problem.
Pay attention to how your parents walk. Are they reluctant or unable to walk usual distances? Have they fallen recently? Would a cane or walker help?
Issues such as muscle weakness and joint pain can make it difficult to move around as well. If your parents are unsteady on their feet, they might be at risk of falling — a major cause of disability among older adults.
There are many steps you can take to ensure your parents' health and well-being, even if you don't live nearby. Try to:
Sometimes parents won't admit they can't do something on their own, and others don't realize they need help. That's where you come in. Make sure your parents understand the problem and your proposed solution.
Remind your parents that you care about them and that you want to help promote their health and well-being, both today and in the years to come.
This article is written by Mayo Clinic Staff. More health and medical information can be found on mayoclinic.org.
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