What are the first few steps a daughter (or son) can take when they suspect mom or dad is having memory issues or struggling on their own?
Chances are you know your parent quite well including all her nuances, the details of all of her stories and how she ticks. You may have also noticed some changes after spending time together over the holidays. It can be quite concerning and downright alarming when something out of the ordinary presents itself. Perhaps a story you have heard too many times to count was missing a detail or two. Could it be a simple memory blip –it happens to all of us! Perhaps you noticed her confused, trying to find something and looking in what clearly would be the wrong part of the house for the item. Could it be she has too much on her mind to concentrate –very unusual for her but after all your parent is a human! Or could it could be something more and if so what now?
First things first, there is no use in flying off the handle when you first encounter a misstep. Talk with your parent and get her point of view. You are still gathering information. Be sensitive to what she says so she doesn’t feel belittled because of what happened. Keep lines of communication open to maintain a healthy, supportive relationship that is respectful and trustworthy.
What happened? Gather the facts – as you know them and watch yourself if your imagination starts filling in the story with assumptions. You just want the facts. Write it down like a story.
Were there consequences and if so, what impact did they have? –nonexistent, mild or more? If it was a case of looking in the wrong area of the house for an item, there is minimal consequences other than possible frustration and time lost. However, if she is forgetting to lock her door when she leaves the house or getting misdirected once she is out and she is having a hard time finding home again, those have greater consequences and additional support needs to be in place quickly. Write this down too.
Are there potential risks if this happens again and if so what are the risks? Without overthinking, assess what kinds of risk to safety to her, safety to others and her own wellbeing are associated with what happened. If the incident was a few missing details in a family story, the risk is too minimal to measure as no one will be hurt. If the incident was leaving the door unlocked when she went out, the risk for an intruder to harm or steal from her can potentially increase. Write down the risks.
What next? Depending on the incident, the consequences and the risks associated with the incident, you will have a clearer idea as to what you need to do next. Is it that you need to contact her family doctor or Home Care? You can share your concerns and receive guidance and perhaps arrange for an in home assessment and learn about community supports available? Is it that you need to make a date for the two of you to go through the photo albums and together you record the stories with all their details? It would be a wonderful archive of knowledge and history to pass down to the generations.
Regardless of what you decide is your next step, I encourage you to use a journal or a notebook and write down any and all incidents and unusual happenings. The facts, the consequences –if any and potential risks associated. Be sure to date it. You think you will remember but you won’t. Your journal will be a valuable source of information that you can bring to her family doctor or to Home Care for a discussion about your concerns. Keeping your loved one supported, safe and happy is your topmost priority.