I know that as a senior citizen, I used to worry about heart disease as being my cause of death since it is what killed many in my family, but I have since worried more about Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia because I would not remember my children, grandchildren or friends. To become so isolated within one’s own body, to where you would not be aware of your loved ones or your surroundings or the present time in your own life terrifies me!
Now that being said, there seems to be a great rush to conclusions today about the state of mind of our seniors. We are quick to put a label of these two diseases upon someone because they are starting to forget things such as eating, to pay bills, where they placed their car keys or where they were going. If you actually take time to look at some of the younger generation, say those in their 30‘s to 50’s you will see that they are actually doing the same forgetful things, but it ends up being shrugged off as happening because they are “pre-occupied, too much multi-tasking and too hectic or stressful life.” So do others think that just because we have turned 60ish that we are all at once removed from this hectic life style because we are now of retirement age? I think not, in fact we are probably a lot more stressed now that we are retired than we were when we were working!
Now that one is about to retire, or has retired, the very first thing that comes into consideration is “what am I now going to do with all this time I have to enjoy my golden years?” I know when I was younger, I really looked forward to the day when I would be able to retire, to sit back, relax, go on trips, go visit my kids and play with my grandchildren whenever I wanted to! I could take my time doing things, no more wearing a wrist watch and having to worry about schedules. By the way, that was the first thing I ditched when I retired….. Got rid of the blasted watch! I soon learned that the golden years aren’t what they were cracked up to be! You thought you were going to be able to retire but instead you are continuing to have to work, even if it is just on a part time basis and it isn’t easy to find work when you are of retirement age.
We also worry a lot about finances. I know that in my particular case, I was so busy supporting and raising four children almost all of their lives by myself and with no child support from their father’s (back then there wasn’t the court enforcement the way there is today) that I didn’t have enough money to set aside for my retirement. I worked quite a few different jobs over the years, never staying with a company long enough to have a 401K or retirement program set up through the company that I worked for. Consequently, now that I am retired, I have only my Social Security and what little else I can earn on the side by continuing to work, as my only source of income. This does make for a very stressful situation, since it seems there is no end to the continual rise in prices for every day necessities such as food, electricity, gas, insurance for both house and car, car tags etc. I can say that I am fortunate enough to have my car paid for but not my house, so there is that expense also, but it is still cheaper than trying to live in an apartment. I also pay my portion of the Part D Medicare, not asking for that to be paid for me.
Like many seniors, I enjoy being independent and not having to avail myself of the social welfare services of asking for assistance with my every day living expenses, although if things continue as they are, I may end up having to humble myself and apply for some assistance. Our generation is a proud generation, having been raised that you take care of yourself, you don’t ask the government for help. For some reason, the younger generation seems to think that they are entitled to all kinds of government assistance and I have to wonder where that mindset came from. Surely all of us as parents didn’t impart that to our children, that they are owed assistance from the government or from other people for that matter. You do for yourself or you do without is what I always learned.
Children, if you happen to notice that your elders seem to be exhibiting the signs of Alzheimer’s or Dementia, please start looking at their situation more closely before you put that diagnosis on them. Maybe what you are seeing is nothing more than financial and emotional stress rather than those dreaded diseases. Remember your parents are proud and they don’t want to ask you for assistance after all, a parent is supposed to help their children, not the other way around!
Here are some signs you need to look for that could be the signs of financial and then consequently emotional distress rather than actually being sick with Alzheimer’s or Dementia or it could actually be signs of those diseases as well. Look beyond the possibility of being sick!
Your parent is more reclusive than they once were. This can be a sign of not having enough money for gas to put into the car to come visit you, or enough money to pay for the insurance or the current car tags. It can also be a sign of depression which comes with not getting out in the sunshine or being with other people. This is one reason a circle of friends, family and church are very important especially at this age. Keeping active, sharing thoughts and times with others helps keep seniors young.
Sudden changes in their eating habits. They no longer eat meat, a variety of fruits and vegetables, or large meals any more. Look beyond the statement of “I am dieting, or I have become a vegetarian.“ Perhaps they just can’t afford to purchase the groceries needed to provide them with a good variety of food items.
They have upped their use of vitamins, holistic medicine alternatives, natural cures for illnesses. Truly they may be serious about wanting to take better care of their bodies but maybe they can’t afford to go to the doctor or pay for their medications
They tell you they don’t watch much TV any more. Could it be that they no longer have electricity?
They are giving up their telephone? They can’t afford the monthly bill.
They are keeping the house warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter than they have in the past? They are trying to conserve on cooling and heating costs.
Are their personal hygiene habits faltering? Dishes piled up in the sink or lots of dirty laundry around? It could be they are without water, trying to conserve on water, or the washer or dishwasher is broken!
How often do you go and actually check on your parents? Do you talk to them more by phone rather than visiting them in their homes? Have you looked inside their refrigerator or cupboards to see how well their cupboards are stocked? Have you checked to see that they have electricity or heat if they use gas furnaces? Have you flipped a light switch or changed the thermostat setting? What about the water, have you run the tap?
Now if you go into their home and see it in total disarray, filthy dirty, unopened mail, stacks of papers everywhere and not filed away, having to make pathways through the house to get from one end to another, then you need to be worrying. I have a friend who has been telling me for over 20 years now that she is getting organized and according to her caretaker she still has tons of cardboard boxes full of papers! Now granted, she is a writer, but I know for a fact that she has umpteen copies of the same manuscript because she keeps revising and revising and never throws out the old copies. It is the same way on her computer!
Overstocked cupboards with items that they would not normally stock up on (like 10 cans of baking soda or 20 bottles of wine) you need to be concerned. Purchases of items that they normally wouldn’t buy or making investments that they normally wouldn’t make, it is time to worry.
I can tell you that you will need to be subtle about doing this, otherwise your parent will become paranoid and you may be in for a tongue lashing….. “What are you doing checking up on me? Don’t you think I can take care of myself?” Where in reality maybe they can’t or they are too proud to tell you that they are in need of financial assistance.
If you notice they are struggling, perhaps you can offer assistance to them without them even realizing you are doing so. Drop by one day with a bag of groceries and fresh fruits and lots of canned goods and staple items. “ Oh I went shopping and found some great bargains and overbought! I thought you could use these I’d hate to have them go to waste and I don’t have room to store it all.”
“I thought I’d just come on by and mow your yard for you…. It’s been too hot for you to get out and do it, or it’s been too wet and hard to push the mower” are good excuses to help them with yard work. Perhaps bring over some pretty flowers to plant or weed killer to get rid of the weeds in the yard.
“You are always helping me, so I thought today I would come over and repay the kindness and love you have shown me” as a way to help with the housework. What parent could say no to you when you say something like this?
If you have really evaluated the situation and are sure that it isn’t just circumstances that have caused your parent to be in the position that they are in, then it is time to get a medical evaluation and face the situation together. Remember that parent who is losing control of their life and their memory is very frightened inside and will do the very best they can to not only hide the fact that they are getting confused and forgetful, but will do everything in their power to cover it up and hide the truth from you. They realize that eventually they will be all alone, trapped inside their body with no connections to the ones they love and who love them. Reassure them now while you can, that you are going to always be there for them and will always love them no matter what.