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Dad at home alone on his phone

Check How Dad is Doing on Father's Day

It’s been a few months since you last saw your elderly dad, and you plan to visit him for Father’s Day. But in your last phone call, he seemed somehow “off,” and you want to make sure he’s still feeling safe and well. How do you know if he is really OK? What do you look for during your visit, and, perhaps more important, if he needs help, how do you broach the topic with him?

“What you should be looking for are indications there may be changes,” says Tara Fleming, collaborative care adviser for Newbridge-on-the-Charles in Massachusetts, an elderly community of Hebrew Senior Life. “There may be changes in his activity level. Maybe you’ve noticed that he no longer gets out once a week with friends for lunch or a round of golf. There could be many reasons for these changes, but it is something to note.”

Other things to look for:

  • Daily Living Activities: Is the laundry piling up? Are bills going unpaid? Is food shopping getting done, or is rotted food accumulating in the refrigerator? Are dirty dishes piling up in the sink? “These sorts of things involve executive function, and are important to be aware of,” says Fleming.
  • Personal Care: Is your father changing his clothes? Is he failing to shower or bathe regularly? Is he starting to have incontinence issues?
  • Ambulatory: Does it seem harder for your father to get around the house, or does his balance look precarious? Has he had any falls? “This becomes a bottom-line safety issue, because you have to ask yourself if you feel he’s still safe in his home,” says Fleming.
  • Driving: Has he had any fender benders lately? Are there new dings or dents in his car? Has he told you of forgetting where he was while driving somewhere? This could be an indication of cognitive changes.
  • Mood: Does your father seem down? If he has retreated from some of his normal activities, as mentioned above, this could be a sign of depression or cognitive changes. He may feel depressed, because the aging process is not an easy one, explains Fleming.

Time to Have a Talk

Your observations should be the jumping off point for a conversation with your father. And the bottom line for having this discussion is knowing your parent and finding a way to present the information that is both respectful and able to be heard.

“If you’re not the person for initiating the conversation, then know the person who is and enlist them as the mouthpiece,” says Fleming. For example, it could be your parent’s primary care physician, with whom he’s had a long relationship and can discuss these matters in an objective way without any emotional involvement. Or it could be his clergyman or rabbi.

If you are the one to start this conversation, ask him about his daily routines and tell him what you’ve observed. You may use, as a lead-in, an article on senior health you’ve read recently and ask if he’d like to discuss it with you. Ask how he’s been feeling and if he has seen his physician recently. If necessary, you can make an appointment for him and accompany him to the doctor. That way you can get information firsthand.

It may not be an easy conversation, but you’ll feel better if your concerns are conveyed to him. And if you think he would benefit, tell him about medical alert devices like those offered by Philips Lifeline. 

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