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The Boston Globe

Magazine

The Boomers Issue

Does your parent need help?

An associate professor of gerontology at UMass Boston notes the warning signs.

WE ASKED ELIZABETH DUGAN, an associate professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston and author of The Driving Dilemma: The Complete Resource Guide for Older Drivers and Their Families,for a few warning signs that it could be time to take a more active role in your parent’s life. (If you don’t live nearby, Dugan says, enlist the help of her doctor or one of her friends to help keep you informed.) Ideally, parents will have earlier worked out all contingencies with directives on their medical care, driving, housing, and finances. “It’s a way for parents to retain autonomy, to clearly express their wishes,” Dugan says. “And to take the pressure off the kids, too.”

If a parent’s car is accumulating small scrapes and dings, that may be a sign he or she is having trouble driving. “Do they get lost in familiar areas or say it takes longer to get to the doctor’s office or grocery store?” asks Dugan. “Do they feel stressed when driving or less confident?”

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Notice whether your parent is still taking care of his grooming and his home. “Are they keeping themselves clean, eating well, cleaning up after they eat, and able to manage their meds?” Dugan asks. “If you don’t see the conscientiousness that may have been present earlier, the living situation may not be as safe. That may signal a mood or memory change that could threaten safety.”

If your parent suddenly has new friends, is getting strange mail, or has unpaid bills, start asking questions.

Notice a parent’s cognitive state. Does she become disoriented; have trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships; get lost while trying to follow a conversation, repeat words and phrases, or struggle with vocabulary; misplace things or accuse others of stealing; exhibit poor judgment or changes in decision making.

Keep an eye on your parent’s outlook on life. Does he have purposeful activities that make him happy to get out of bed in the morning? “We navigate loss after loss in the last chapters of life,” Dugan says. “If a person doesn’t have something that gives meaning and shape to their days, help them find something — some productive activity where they can feel like they’re contributing.” --Elizabeth Gehrman

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