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When families gather for holiday celebrations, it sometimes becomes apparent that elderly family members are experiencing changes that need to be addressed. Adult children are often shocked by their aging parents’ situations. Look for the following warning signs:

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  • Deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Unopened mail
  • Changes to level of cleanliness of home
  • Repetition in conversation
  • Changes in personality
  • Bruises (caused by falling)
  • Urine odors
  • Damage to automobiles
  • Insufficient food in the pantry and refrigerator

If these types of changes in elderly family members are occurring the adult children will need to intervene. These problems will not get better on their own. If the adult children are not already aware of their parents’ wishes regarding who is to make decisions when a parent is unable as expressed in legal documents, the adult children should explore this situation. This exploration must be done diplomatically because vulnerable adults may fear losing control. If the exploration indicates inadequate or an absence of planning, there may be a window of opportunity for the parents’ to make important legal decisions.

In addition to accessing the status of legal planning, assisting the parents’ in getting an appropriate medical assessment is critical. Most primary care physicians do not meet their patients in their homes so the physician may not be aware of the changes that the family members are observing in the home. If a disease process is already advanced, the persons named as fiduciary in the legal documents will need to assume control pursuant to the terms of the documents. Fiduciary responsibilities are complex and many family members assume control without sufficient knowledge of their responsibilities.

When there is a chronic disability such as a form of dementia diagnosed, the family needs not only legal documents, but a plan that considers types of care, financial limitations, and availability of governmental benefits to ensure the well being of the elderly loved ones.