The Sneaky Kid's Guide to Aging Parents


By Frena Gray-Davidson

So your elderly parents are causing you worry? But do you need to really worry about them or are they just little tottery but sensible? How do you know if your aging parents need help?

Here's some things to look for:
1. Sneak around where they live and if everything looks normal, for them;
2. Are they doing laundry?
3. Is the refrigerator stocked with enough food?
4. Is the environment safe against falls, fires and other perils.
5. Are your parents really managing their medicines?

Here's some signs their personal standards are slipping:
1. They don't look as well-groomed as they once were;
2. They seem to always be wearing the same clothes;
3. They don't see their friends as usual;
4. They've dropped favorite activities;
5. They're isolating themselves more.

The sneaky kid's check-up on aging parents:
1. Drop round at meal-time and see if they're eating well;
2. Check in the laundry room and look in the hampers;;
3. Look in their bedroom and note any changes;
4. The mail -- is it piling up?
5. Check with friendly neighbors -- who are often the first to notice changes.

Now, you think maybe they might not being doing too well but you still aren't sure. This is the time to invite yourself over for the weekend. Make an excuse -- they're painting your apartment, the cooler went off. Hang around, don't help, see how they do, make notes, ask questions and here's what to look for.

Signs of need for help:
1. They can't manage housework or cooking at all well;
2. They seem confused and can't keep up the conversation;
3. Their medication is a mess -- they take it or not and don't really notice;
4. You see they have short-term memory issues;
5. They seem to have irrational fears.

So, sneaky, what next? Next is a plan, some helpers, some honest talk without bullying or making them wrong. Instead, you are very kind and very respectful. You talk about how grateful you are to them and now it's your turn to return some of that. Just make it all sound like something you might say, in your own unique way.

It all translates into: I love you, I owe you, please let me do some things for you so I don't have to keep worrying that you're okay.

If they say, as they likely will, we're fine. That's when you say some version of, but I'm your son (daughter) and I want to know you're fine.

The things you must do:
1. Ensure they have good food to eat;
2. Make taking medication safe and efficient;
3. Check their bills are being paid just the right number of times;
4. Ensure their house is fall and fire proof;
5. Lay down a plan.

These things can be arranged in a wide number of ways. You can:
1. Involve other family members;
2. Hire someone for the job;
3. Let some trusted friends of theirs know what help is needed;
4. Do it all yourself;
5. Persuade them to move into assisted living.
6. Move in with them;
7. Have them move in with you;
8. None of the above but some unique idea of your own.

The only thing you can't do is to do nothing.

Frena Gray-Davidson, Alzheimer's caregiver and author of five caregiving books, including her latest book "Alzheimer's 911: Hope, Help and Healing for Caregivers", available at Frena teaches care families and professionals to decode the language of dementia and achieve successful behavior interventions. Go to her website at and sign up for her free monthly online newsletter for all involved in dementia care. Email her at

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3 Responses

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Debbie Heiser and steve Joyce. steve Joyce said: From EldercareABC-- The Sneaky Kid’s Guide to Aging Parents: By Frena Gray-Davidson So your elderly parents are ca... [...]
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  3. Excellent ideas, and right on the target. My mom kept telling me she was fine whenever I'd ask (she lived nearby), and I'm sure she truly thought she was. I found it wasn't the case at all, and she has since moved in with my husband and me so we can make sure she's really okay. I learned the hard way, though--she had become ill and would not tell me about it (she's very private and independent), then fell and was seriously injured. She's much better overall now as far as health and safety, and I feel relieved.
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  6. Once you've discussed their need for more care with your parents consider working with a care manager; some companies provide a minicomputer in the home which tracks the parents daily living activities. It can determine when medicine is taken, the refrigerator is open and bathroom activity...alerting the adult child when there are major changes.
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