As the New Year begins and individuals return to their pre-holiday routines, some individuals find themselves with a new set of responsibilities. Having spent the holiday season reuniting with family and friends,there are usually a group of individuals who come to the realization that "Mom is not as well as she claimed to be," or "Dad seems a lot more forgetful than he lead on." Such occurrences will often leave a family member concerned, worried and unsure how to proceed. Below are a few recommendations on possible paths to take when dealing with such a situation.
Talk with your loved one
Try to discuss your concerns with the person you are worried about. You may want to start a discussion by saying something like "Mom, is everything okay? I've noticed that you seem a bit more _______ (stressed, on edge, unlike yourself, etc.)" If possible try to refrain from using negative words like "short-tempered, confused, forgetful,or paranoid as it can result in a defensive response. Should you be confronted with a negative response, then it may be best to back off and save the discussion for another time.
Attend a Doctor's appointment
If your loved one acknowledges a problem, you should inquire about any upcoming doctor's appointments. If one has already been scheduled, offer to go as a means of support and as an extra set of ears. Two people are generally better than one in terms of remembering information relayed by a medical professional. Be sure to bring along a notebook and pen to write down important information like diagnosis, plan of care, and treatment options.
Research and Educate
If a diagnosis is issued, take the information home with you and do some research. The more you learn about an illness or disease the better prepared you can be for any potential medical and behavioral issues that can arise. Knowing what you are up against can also help in making long-term care decisions. Last but not least, share what you have learned with your loved one, family and any other involved individuals. Doing so can help get everyone on the same page and hopefully pitch in when necessary.
Now, what if your loved one denies anything being wrong but there is clearly something going on? Below are a few steps to consider that may or may not work, but have proven to be worthwhile for some families.
Talk with friends, neighbors and/or other relatives
If you are unable to talk with your loved one directly, you may wish to try bringing up your concern with individuals who interact with your loved one on a frequent basis. This can be another relative, a close friend or even a neighbor. While it is understandable you may not want to divulge anything about your loved one's well-being, a simple statement to a neighbor like "Hi Dorothy! Mom told me you came over the other day for coffee. I'm so glad you are able to stop by once in a while. Since you are so close with her, I'm wondering if it would be alright to give you my number in case you need to get in contact with me. I know Mom has been having a little difficulty lately so in case you notice anything, feel free to give me a call." This type of conversation, modified to your level of comfort of course, may open the door of communication between you and your mother's friend and provide you with further insight regarding your mother's situation.
Reach out to your loved one's physician
Relaying your concern to your loved one's physician may be beneficial to you and the physician. For some families, especially those who have had the same doctor for numerous years, they may be able to directly express their concern and discuss options. Be aware, however, that due to confidentiality regulations many physicians will not divulge any information regarding his/her patient's care. If a direct conversation with your loved one's physician is not possible, consider writing a letter explaining your reason for such contact, what you are noticing about your loved one and why you are concerned. At the very least, you will be notifying the physician and hopefully contributing to a more thorough evaluation.
Plan an Unannounced Visit
An unexpected visit can be a great way of obtaining a glimpse of what is going on when you’re not around. Understanding your loved one's daily routine like the activities they conduct throughout the day, how long they sleep, and how often they take their medications can prove helpful and may explain any “strange” behaviors you are noticing. If visiting is not an option, daily phone calls can provide a bit more insight than a weekly phone call. During these calls, the goal should be to get a clearer picture of what their daily routine consists of. Ask open-ended questions like: “What did you do today?”, “What did you have for lunch?” or “Do you have anything planned for this week?” By doing so, you are allowing room for more of a discussion which can lead to a better understanding of your relative's well-being.
Hopefully, the suggestions above will prove helpful to you. Do you have other recommendations or suggestions you believe would help someone who is concerned about a loved one? Please share them below.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.