Elderly Parent in Wheelchair With Daughter and GranddaughterYou desperately want to honor your loved one’s wishes to stay in their own home as they age, but at a certain point, it might become too difficult for them to manage. Whether your elderly parent has physical limitations or is showing signs of cognitive decline, it is probably time to consider an alternate living arrangement when they reach the point where their safety is at risk. Unfortunately, if you wait too long to consider this possibility, your options for their long-term care will be limited. We take a look at warning signs that your loved one needs around-the-clock care and offer tips for preparing for that day.

When Is it Time to Look for a Nursing Home?

Sometimes, an elderly parent’s decline is so gradual that it’s a shock to realize they need help. Other times, a catastrophic fall or a frightening memory lapse leaves you with no other option than an emergency admission to a facility. Before it reaches this point, keep an eye out for these five signs that your loved one will need help sooner rather than later:

  1. Self-care is lacking. Signs that your parent is losing the ability to care for herself include not bathing regularly, losing weight, not doing laundry, not paying bills, and not taking medications. If their home is a mess, food is going bad in the fridge, and pets are not being cared for, it is probably time to check in more often, hire help—if possible—and start investigating other living arrangements.
  2. They can no longer get around. Losing the ability to drive is frustrating for seniors, but the real problems start when they can no longer stand from a chair, walk to the mailbox, get in and out of a bathtub or shower, or get in and out of a car when someone else is driving them. Losing mobility makes living alone—or only having part-time care—very difficult and dangerous for the senior.
  3. They are showing symptoms of sundowning. An early warning sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, sundowning is the tendency for older people to get more agitated and confused later in the day. Be sure you are visiting your loved one at various times of the day so that you can catch these early indications that they will need more assistance in the near future.
  4. They have become depressed or aggressive. If your loved one is isolated from friends and family, they may become depressed and lose the motivation to care for themselves. If they are suffering from dementia, they could become violent and aggressive. These issues should not be handled by untrained family members. At this point, your loved one needs professional help.
  5. Caregivers are stressed out. Your elderly parent might be coping fine with your help, but if you have reached a limit on the amount of care you can personally provide—or can afford to pay for—it could be time to find an assisted living situation.

The most important factor in making a decision is your loved one’s health and safety. Many caregivers and adult children feel guilty about “putting their parent in a nursing home,” but in many situations, it’s the right option. Rather than thinking about it as something you are doing to your parent, think of it as a necessary life-saving measure taken out of love and concern.

Don’t Wait Until You Are Faced With an Emergency

Many high-quality nursing homes have waitlists that are six months or longer. That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a nursing home bed in an emergency, but it may not be your first choice for your parent or loved one. Getting on a waitlist when you first see signs of decline can be a smart move, but it’s nearly impossible to get the timing exactly right. Having discussions about the various options with your loved one while they are fully capable of such conversation is difficult but vital.

John K. Ross IV
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John K. Ross helps clients in Texas and Arkansas with all matters of Elder Law including estate planning.