Three questions to ask when seniors struggle with memory

There are so many challenges that come with taking care of elderly parents. One of the most difficult ones can be making decisions for parents who are no longer mentally capable of making decisions for themselves.

Many people have difficulties dealing with stubborn parents, but when parents are struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s, problems can be amplified. The confusion that can surround even simple things can make every step forward a slog. At Savanna House, we specialize in Memory Care. Even if your parents aren’t staying with us, we hope we can help.

Here are 3 tough decisions – and how to prepare for them. 

When is the right time to take the car keys?

If your dad is in his 70s, he’s likely been driving for more than five decades. It’s going to be tough to convince him to stop something he has a half-century worth of experience doing. In the time he’s been driving, America has had 10 presidents. The car he first drove is now an antique. Your dad has logged enough miles to be considered an expert at driving.

But he’s started forgetting. He has trouble retaining new information. He misplaces things. And when he drives, he can sometimes be erratic. As his physical abilities have declined, he’s been losing the ability to do many of the activities he’s enjoyed throughout his life so taking away driving can seem particularly unfair. However, if he is putting himself and others at risk, you’ve got to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is.

The Mayo Clinic recommends the following actions:

  • Begin the conversation as soon as possible and involve the doctor
  • Involve the person with dementia in the planning and decision-making
  • Talk about the safety of the driver and others
  • Appeal to the person’s sense of responsibility
  • Be aware of the person’s feelings about this change

The Mayo Clinic also wisely suggests creating a contract as soon as signs of mild dementia appear. The contract will give you the right to take away the keys when the time comes.

When is it appropriate to discuss money?

One of the things that children of parents with dementia or Alzheimer’s are rightfully concerned about is finances. Lots of questions come to mind about whether funds will be available to support them for the rest of their lives, especially if their healthcare costs are increasing. You may also have some general curiosity about their will or living trust. 

Your mom was likely raised during a time when discussing money was inappropriate. Add to that the fact that because elderly people are often the targets of scams, she may be skeptical of any changes involving her bank account. But Baby Boomers and their parents are seeking answers when it comes to the cost of financial planning — so much so that some financial advisors have carved out a niche by making elder-care planning their primary focus.

If you can find a financial advisor your mom trusts, the three of you can have the discussion together. If your mom doesn’t have a will, you’ll also want to find an attorney who specializes in estate planning. 

Depending on how well you can communicate with your mom, these conversations could be easy or they could seem like snooping. Either way, it’s important that you ask questions while her memory is good enough to tell you precisely what she would like to happen. Then it’s your job to do your best to honor her wishes. 

When should you consider assisted living?

The answer to this one is different for everyone, but here’s the truth: It’s better to be too early than too late. If you’ve begun to see signs of memory loss, you should start talking about assisted living. 

We advise that you start with simple questions. “Hey Dad, how do you feel about assisted living?” “Mom, I heard one of your friends moved into assisted living. What do you think about that?”

If you start early, you have the luxury of being able to have the conversation slowly. You can let it unfold over months, maybe even a year or more. Much like a will, it’s better to know in advance what your parents want. 

When the time is right, ask them if they’d like to tour an assisted living facility. No pressure. You just want to look around. If you force their hand, you may get resistance. But if you treat it as one of many options, you may be able to get their honest opinion. 

Your parents very well may be fearing a cold, sterile environment with brick walls and metal lunch trays. They may be surprised to find that many assisted living facilities have fun activities and some pretty attractive amenities. Savanna House, for example, offers arts and crafts, a beauty salon and spa, lounges, a movie theater and a top-notch dining area focused on comfort and nutrition. 

None of these conversations will be easy, but we’re here to help in any way we can.