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Changing Seasons

By Paulette Kaufman

Have you looked at your mother lately? I mean, have you really looked at your mother lately? As a marketing counselor in a Continuous Care Retirement Community (CCRC) I have met many senior citizens and their families. It amazes me how many children continue to see their parents as the strong, in-charge person they were 30 years ago. They are accustomed to seeing their parents provide help and support; and truly fear seeing their mother or father struggling.

Recently, a couple from Delaware brought their father into our lifecare community to look at apartments in the independent living neighborhood. When I spoke to the son on the phone, I asked him how his father was managing at home. His reply was confident, "My Dad is fine, and does everything for himself." We set the appointment for later that week.

On the day of the appointment they arrived with Dad. I was concerned when I saw him. He was a tall, frail man, wearing a disheveled warm-up suit that looked like it needed washing. He could have also used a shave. However, when I reached for his hand to shake it, his bright blue eyes sparkled and he gave me a big smile, and a warm "Hello."

As we walked down the hall to see an apartment the older gentleman pulled me aside and quietly confided, "I can't do this. My legs are too weak to walk this far." I knew he needed Assisted Living, where the rooms and distances are more manageable, and 24-hour personal care is available.

I turned to the son and explained the situation. As our parents age, sometimes they need extra care and assistance. Everyone wants their parents to live independently as long as possible, but the ability to make good decisions and to care for oneself can slowly decline. Then there may be a crisis, and the immediate and sometimes emergency need for the help of another caring adult becomes suddenly apparent.

We then toured the Assisted Living neighborhood of the community. When we finished, the older gentleman turned to me, smiled kindly and said, "This is more like it."

When the father went to use the restroom, his son looked at me and said, "I just had no idea he was so frail."

This scenario is a common experience that occurs as seasons change in the lives of those we love. The son always saw his dad as the strong father figure of years ago. After a bit of probing, some of my questions revealed signs he hadn't seen. He admitted that his Dad had lost some weight recently, and told me that on their last visit he noticed a few 'Meals on Wheels" boxes sitting in the refrigerator, unopened. It was difficult for this loving son to acknowledge that his father had aged and needed assistance with daily tasks. A tear came to the son's eyes as he realized he had been in denial, and that he wasn't helping his father in the right way.

If you are wondering whether or not this experience could be yours, ask yourself the following questions, and you may quickly find the answer.

  • Is your parent telling you that he is eating, but you're seeing food go bad in the refrigerator?

  • Is s/he covering up bruises from falling that s/he doesn't want you to see?

  • Have you seen your parent wearing the same clothes when you go to visit?

  • Does s/he hear strange noises in the night?

  • When you look around the house or yard, is it as neat and clean as it used to be?

  • Is your parent able to take medications correctly?

  • Does your parent respond appropriately to an emergency?

When you really look at your parent, do you see the bright and vibrant person from years ago, or do you really see a more limited person who needs some help one hour a day, three hours a day, or around the clock?

As children, it is important to recognize when our parents need help. We have a responsibility to see that they are properly cared for, comfortable, and secure. So I ask you once again, . . . have your really looked at your parent lately?

About the author: Paulette Kaufman is currently Director of Sales at Keswick Pines, a Lifecare Center in New Jersey, which offers assisted living and comprehensive health care programs to residents, providing personal assistance, nursing care, pain management, and memory impairment support. Ms. Kaufman's mother has been a resident of Keswick Pines for four years.