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Information about the author of this post.
tlwe223's picture Terri Weber, MSW, CSW
Elder Care Specialist
College or Department
Phone Number
(859) 218-0457
Email Address

It is difficult for someone to admit they need help, and to accept that help as they age. As a family member, it can be challenging for you to know when, and how, to step in and become more involved in your loved one’s care.

Oftentimes, it falls on the family to recognize the signs that an aging loved one needs assistance. When you notice your loved one struggling, recognize that they possibly could benefit from more support. This is the time to think differently about your relationship with that person.

Regardless of whether you need to assist a parent, spouse, partner or other loved one, do not look at it as taking on their roles and responsibilities. Instead, look at it as an offer of assistance. You are helping your loved one with things that they are no longer capable of handling.

People generally have a strong desire to remain independent and in control of their own lives for as long as possible. They may be reluctant to ask for help, but you may notice things that need attention!

Warning Signs

  • Neglecting personal hygiene and grooming (noticeable body odor, poor oral care, disheveled appearance, wearing the same outfit several days in a row)
  • Challenges with mobility (difficultly moving around, transferring, falling, unexplained bruises, cuts and scrapes)
  • Changes in eating habits (apparent weight loss due to loss of appetite, poor diet, difficulty cooking and shopping for food, spoiled food that doesn’t get thrown out)
  • Changes in behavioral and mental status (loss of interest in activities that were previously important, missed appointments, inability to keep track of time, changes in mood)
  • Changes in tidiness and sanitation in a previously well-kept home (stacks of unopened mail and unpaid bills, stained or wet carpet or furniture)

It can be a challenge to know when to step in and become more involved. If you notice your loved one is struggling with any of the above warning signs, it’s time to have an open an honest conversation with them. Knowing it is the right thing to do doesn’t make the decision any easier. Most of the time our older loved ones know when their cognitive and physical abilities are waning and realize they will have to rely on someone else to help manage their daily needs. This realization can bring a flood of emotions – anger, denial, resentment – and it can all be focused on you.

So, what can you do?

  1. Be open and honest. Share your feelings and concerns, no matter how uncomfortable this may be.
  2. Remind your loved one you are here to support them. It is easy for your parent or loved one to feel threatened and see you as the enemy when they feel their independence is being taken away.    
  3. Include them in the decision-making process. Give your loved one some control in all the decisions by providing them with as many options and as much information they can understand and process.
  4. Keep the lines of communication open with your loved one and keep things in perspective in your own mind. You have a life beyond caregiving. You need to set boundaries on what you are willing and able to do.
  5. Treat your loved one as you would like to be treated: with dignity and respect.

Your goal is not to take away their independence but to keep them safe while maintaining as much independence as possible for as long as possible.

Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,