| Read Time: 4 minutes | Elder Law
elderly family member

As parents and other loved ones age, they may require assistance with the activities of daily living, finances, and medical care. But that does not mean they want to completely give up their independence. Nor should they. So children and other caregivers must tread lightly in offering and providing assistance. 

The Golden Rule provides a useful guide when it comes to helping seniors. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Even if you found yourself in need of help with certain tasks, you still would expect your children to treat you with respect, give you privacy, and not interfere with the tasks you can manage on your own. Your elderly loved one feels the same way. 

Evaluate Whether Your Elderly Family Member Needs Assistance

The best way to determine whether your loved one needs help is to stay in touch. During regular phone calls, you can pay attention to any changes in memory, mood, or speech. This also gives seniors the opportunity to ask for help. When visiting, assess whether there are any signs of self-neglect or neglect by caregivers. 

Bear in mind that regularly dropping in unannounced can be viewed as disrespectful or overbearing. It is best to schedule regular calls and visits at a time convenient for your loved one. 

Signs of Self-Neglect

Because decline is usually gradual, seniors often do not recognize how bad some problems have become. Or, they may fear that if they admit they need help, they will lose their independence. 

Signs of self-neglect include:

  • The elderly person being unclean or wearing dirty clothes,
  • A dirty or messy home,
  • Lack of food in the house,
  • Signs of excessive alcohol consumption,
  • Unfilled prescriptions or confusion about medication dosing,
  • Bruising or other indications that the senior routinely falls or otherwise suffers injuries,
  • Isolation,
  • Unpaid bills, and 
  • Confusion.

Gently mentioning your observations about the changes you observe and expressing your concern can be the best way to start a conversation. Your elderly family member is more likely to open up about their feelings and their need for assistance if you let them lead the conversation. 

Signs of Neglect by Others

Sadly, elder neglect is a pervasive problem. If a caregiver or adult child does not respond to an older adult’s needs, that is neglect. It may include things like:

  • Depriving the elder of food, water, or heat;
  • Failing to clean clothing, bedding, eyeglasses, or dentures;
  • Depriving a senior of medication or health-related services; and
  • Abandonment. 

When you see indications of any form of neglect, it is ok to intervene. The same is true of elder abuse. Ensuring your loved one’s safety must be your number one priority. At this stage, it also can be helpful to consult an elder law lawyer for guidance.  

Focus Discussions on How to Maintain Independence

If you determine that your elderly family member needs some assistance, frame your discussion around how you can help them maintain their independence. If they are willing to accept some help, do the task with them, not for them. For example, if a senior asks for a ride to the grocery store and for help carrying heavy grocery bags, only do those tasks. Resist the urge to push the cart or shop for them. Instead, pay attention to what foods they choose. This will help if you need to help more with shopping down the road.

In some cases, parents may not want adult children to help with tasks like bathing or toileting to preserve their dignity. If your parent does not want your help, ask them who they will allow to assist them. Sometimes hiring a professional caregiver is the best solution. Your loved one gets the help they need while maintaining normal family dynamics.  

Either way, an easy way of helping an elderly loved one without overstepping boundaries is to set up safety nets. These are things that offer layers of protection and alternate ways to keep tabs on your family member. Examples include:

  • Having the elderly person wear a medical alert pendant,
  • Installing assistive devices like grab bars in the home,
  • Arranging for neighbors to check in at regular intervals, and 
  • Provide your contact information to entities your loved one frequents (such as a church or senior center) in case they do not attend when expected.

These safety nets give seniors who live alone options for seeking help. They also provide ways for you to find out when you need to check in. 

Discuss Estate Planning 

Estate planning can be a touchy subject with elderly adults. But here again, the best way to broach the subject is to focus on preserving their control over their own lives.

It is very common for seniors to experience periods of temporary incapacity. For instance, seniors are prone to urinary tract infections that may affect their mental state until treated. Using a power of attorney, your loved one can dictate who should handle their financial affairs during these periods of temporary incapacity. Likewise, a power of attorney for health care clarifies who should make healthcare decisions when the senior cannot. Reassure your loved ones that including these documents in their estate plan ensures they maintain control over their health and finances. 

Another facet of such planning is a living will. Somewhat paradoxically, the earlier you bring up this topic, the easier it may be. People are more comfortable discussing how they want their possessions distributed when death seems far off. And it is important to make plans before dementia sets in. 

Talk About Finances

Parents may be reluctant to discuss finances with their children—both because they do not want to give up control and because they fear greedy motives. But it is important to make sure they are financially secure and paying bills on time. Here again, offering to pay bills together may be your best bet. Or offer to set up online payment systems for them.

Also, keep seniors informed about common scams, as this demographic is frequently targeted in fraud schemes. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau provides guidance on protecting older adults from fraud and financial exploitation.

Rely on an Experienced Lawyer

Whether your family needs help with legal matters or non-legal issues related to your elderly loved one, Long Islanders can rely on Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C. I advise families on protecting their assets, financing retirement, planning for long-term care, and even finding a nursing home placement. I will personally explain all your options and meet with you at your home or office. Contact my office today for a free consultation.

Author Photo

Andrew Lamkin is principal in the law firm of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., where he focuses his practice in the areas of elder law, estate planning and special needs planning, including Wills and Trusts, Medicaid planning, estate administration and residential real estate transactions. He is admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey.

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