What To Do When You Notice Your Aging Parents Are Starting To “Slip”

The signs of slipping can be very subtle at first. Mom forgets an appointment. Dad can’t remember how to get somewhere he’s been a zillion times. Your aging parent is just starting to seem a little off, a little more forgetful and it’s happening enough for you to notice. Should you do something or is it too early to be worried?

This question has come up at AgingParents.com from adult children in their 50s and 60s. Their parents may be in their 80s and 90s, though sometimes much younger than that. Typically the adult children dismiss what they see as being “just part of getting older”. But this level of forgetting isn’t a normal part of getting older. What is normal is being slower to remember things, and occasionally forgetting things. It is not normal to experience memory loss that interferes with daily life, such as not knowing how to get home, forgetting to pay bills, and not remembering at all to buy groceries . None of these things generally happen overnight. Rather, a slow decline can be in place for a long period. Adult children are best off when they are willing to see it and take action.

Why does paying attention to increasing episodes of memory loss matter? After all, the aging parent can still take care of himself. They’ll say they feel just fine. Warning signs that memory loss is getting more obvious should prompt any adult child to get moving on some basics. There are measures you need to take proactively, before you are forced to make decisions with a clearly impaired elder. Here are a few of them:

  1. Ask about their estate plan. Is there a will and/or trust? Is the lawyer who drafted it still around? It is time to have a planning conversation with your aging parents, the lawyer and yourself. If you will ultimately have to take over responsibility for finances, you need to learn from the lawyer and your aging parents what that job entails. Dad or Mom may need to set a date to resign as trustee, when there is a trust in place.
  2. Is there a Durable Power of Attorney for finances and one for healthcare? These can be very simple documents, available online or through an estate planning attorney. If Mom forgets to pay her bills and you step in, you will likely need legal permission, in the form of this financial Power of Attorney. It is best to ensure that you have one and that it is properly signed and notarized so you can do business for an aging parent when the need arises.
  3. Memory loss can be an early warning sign of developing dementia. There is no cure and dementia does progress. Care is usually needed as the aging parent’s state of mind declines. Plan for how to pay for care for your loved one. Medicare does not cover the kind of care most older folks need as dementia takes hold. If you do not want the burden of support to fall on YOU, this is a very important subject to address.

When your aging parent is starting to noticeably slip in their cognitive ability, take action. Yes, it is alarming to see and worrisome. But waiting to do anything only makes it harder to persuade the elder to allow you to help. Take advantage of the earlier stages of this progressive problem while you can still reason with your loved one. Their ability to reason slips away with increasing memory loss. Being proactive is the best protection against disaster that you can get.

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