"Good Morning America's" new series "Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk" tackles tough topics on aging parents. And few subjects are more difficult to broach than the question of assisted living: When is it time to get your parents help or move them to a senior residence?
Elinor Ginzler, senior vice president for livable communities at AARP, offers advice on how to recognize the signs that your parents need assistance in day-to-day living, and how to talk to them about it.
Bringing your parents to live in your home is one option, but that's a different conversation. If that doesn't work for your family, you have to decide whether your parent needs outside assistance at home or an assisted-living facility.
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"There is no one special sign," Ginzler said. "This is something that is a gut-check for you as a child looking at your older parents."
But, she said, there are two things to look for to help determine if your parents are struggling: the condition of their home and their health.
A decline in the condition of their home is a sign that they may need help. Here, you are basically looking at cleanliness and upkeep. Is their house as clean as it has always been? Is there enough food -- and is it the right kind of food -- unspoiled and balanced? You also need to look at safety. Are there too many steps? Are there handrails that are loose? Are there throw-rugs that are worn, posing a serious threat for falls?
The second indication is the physical condition of the person, your parent. Look at how he or she is moving around the house and for how your parent appears to you from a health perspective. You're not a doctor, but you can see if your parent's health is deteriorating. If it is, you should be concerned.
This is a family issue, and there's no hard-or-fast rule but, Ginzler said, the key is to have a family history to go on. And it is best to have the talk about assisted living before things get too bad.
"You can tell if things aren't quite the same as they were," Ginzler said. "It is never too soon to have this conversation."
Talking about assisted living is one of the hardest conversations you can have with a parent. The most important thing, Ginzler said, is to support your parents and let them know your desire for them to be independent. But balance that with everyone's desire for them to live safely and optimally.
You have to use concrete statements, she said. Be as specific as possible about your fears and why you think they need help, and use clear examples. Say something like, "I couldn't help but notice those steps looked dangerous, and it looked hard for you going up and down them," or whatever the actual case may be.