Is Your Aging Parent’s Behavior Changing?

aging parents

Last March I wrote an article for FamilyAffaires.com entitled “Parenting Your Parent; Unnatural but Sometimes Necessary

I speak to community groups regularly to help advance Alzheimer’s awareness and lend support to families in crisis. The topic of “parental intervention” comes up frequently. The common concern from adult children in the audience is:

“What should I watch for in advance of a parental crisis to be more pro-active?”

It’s a great question with even better good intentions. Taking off the protective blinders of denial and ignorance before you’re swimming in physical and financial disasters may not literally avert any of them, but at least conscious thought has been given to the multitude of What-Ifs.

Although the manual for parenting a teenager is pretty much blank, one common denominator is being observant and attentive to any alterations in their overall behavior. As a parent do you notice a change in their dress, language, friend groups, curfew violations, attitude, sleep, declining interest in social/sports activities, questionable lying, etc. Are they moody? Erratic? Are you suspicious they’re outright lying, being manipulative or hiding truths?

These exact same areas can be very revealing with your parents too.

Changes in Behavior/Interests. Like it or not, as we age we experience real legitimate changes besides sagging skin that resembles a Shar-Pei puppy. Our parent’s behavior and interests may change too. A slight slowing or decline is probably natural and without alarm. It’s the sudden, significant and/or out of character differences that warrant your attention and they are often accompanied by lame excuses.

My mother had exquisite hand skills with Cross-Stitch on linen, Black Work Hardanger and more. Long before her Alzheimer’s was debilitating, she abruptly quit, unable to sequence the techniques, remember what to do or process directions. Unfinished projects were strewn about. I completely missed the significance at the time because Mom masked her declining abilities with vague replies like: “I can’t decide what to do next.” Or “I can’t find…”

Depending on the cause of your parent’s activity changes you might not actually be able to boost their interest again.

The point is to be aware that changes are occurring.  Rule out underlying medical causes like stroke or depression.

Changes in Attitude and Demeanor. Is your parent’s temperament deteriorating? Are they Grumpier? Moody? Unpredictable? I believe there’s some legitimacy to Grumpy Old Man Syndrome. My wonderful hubby (70ish) has too much time on his hands in my opinion and can get very wrapped up in negative news. I’ve threatened more than once to hurl the remote when he counterproductively screams at the TV.

Watch and listen for deterioration in your parent’s temperament. Neurological conditions especially can cause alterations in attitude and judgment. But there can be many other underlying reasons including depression, boredom or loneliness. Maybe something as simple as a frank conversation with them about their attitude can be veryrevealing. If your parent opens up honestly don’t forget to listen and validate.

My once independent and accomplished father was derailed by a debilitating stroke. Occasionally he would just admit thoughtfully that he wished he had died instead of being trapped in a “worthless body”. Of course I went nuts and tried to comfort him citing all the reasons why he was better off alive.

But again I missed the point that he was mostly looking for validation that the stroke had significantly and adversely affected his life and independence. No driving. No golf. Help with every self care need at my mother’s expense.

He just wanted to be heard and I didn’t listen. The point is to Listen and Validate.

Covering the Truth. Are you suspicious your parents aren’t being truthful about their health or safety issues? Generally parents camouflage the reality of their situations to protect their children at any age. But when a crisis occurs, you might suddenly find yourself juggling conversations with doctors or arranging for caregivers. And maybe you’re doing it all long distance.

Dementia particularly affects perception, truthfulness and accuracy. But a parent may be unwilling to concede the reality of their changing medical needs regardless of why. These are murky waters as parents may staunchly resist intervention or probing questions.

It’s critically important to gather as much information as possible about your parent’s diagnoses, medications, doctors’ names and contact information, maybe via a little snooping if necessary. The primary objective however isn’t to be an arrogant offspring but to be knowledgeable and prepared for safety concerns.

In Summary

Health issues and family dynamics are too complex and varied for one-size fits all solutions. My singular advice is to be as informed as possible without crossing the line of disrespect and autonomy.

So much for the golden years!

Age brings challenges for everyone. Be observant, honest, informed and fair. Don’t fight it or run and hide. Embrace the reality of your parent’s evolving needs and make the best decisions possible in their behalf and with their input.

Read more in the Multi-Award Winning Memoir I Will Never Forget.
“Help Me Help Others. Buy a Book.” I donate to Alzheimer’s from each book sold.

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Elaine C.Pereira

About Elaine C.Pereira

Elaine retired in June 2010 as a school Occupational Therapist where she worked with special needs children. She lives in southeastern Michigan with her husband, Joe. Between them, they have five children — Joe has three sons and Elaine has twin daughters-and soon-to-be five grandchildren. Elaine has a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy from Wayne State University. Elaine is the author of I Will Never Forget and she was inspired to tell her mother’s incredible story in part to help other caregivers coping with memory loss issues in their loved ones. I Will Never Forget

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