Parenting Your Aging Parents

The Lake Oconee Boomers Team

Updated on:

moskowit© Copyright 2012 by Robert Moskowitz

Dear Robert:

My father always prided himself on being one of the smartest in the family. He kept strictly up‑to‑date on politics, economics, everything. But in the last few months, he’s lost interest in the daily news, and some of his comments and advice are downright fuzzy‑headed!

Does this mean he’s getting Alzheimer’s Disease. If so, can we stop it from destroying his intelligence?

Signed, Optimistic in Ohio

Dear Optimistic:

You have every reason for optimism. Only about one percent of those over 65 actually have Alzheimer’s Disease. However, “Alzheimer’s” has become a convenient catchword to describe every type of senility and memory loss, despite vast differences too important to ignore.

Alzheimer’s Disease produces characteristic tangles of fibers and degenerated nerve endings, particularly in areas of the brain responsible for memory and “intellectual” processes. But the same kind of memory loss and mental deterioration can also be caused by small strokes, imbalances in body chemistry, clinical depression, thyroid problems, poor nutrition, brain tumors, head injuries or alcoholism, or even by easily remedied problems such as stress, fatigue, illness, distraction, or side‑effects of medication.

Different causes result in different patterns of forgetfulness and other symptoms. For example, strokes often cause noticeable deterioration in steps – your dad gets worse, but stabilizes at that level, then gets even worse, but stabilizes again. Meanwhile, a thyroid or other chemical imbalance may cause memory loss that gets no worse. An Alzheimer’s patient may worsen at a fairly steady pace. It’s wise to have your Dad thoroughly evaluated by a geriatric specialist before accepting his mental deterioration as either permanent or untreatable.

Whatever the cause of the symptoms, it’s important to discuss the situation with your father. Even if only at some subconscious level, most people recognize they’ve lost some mental capacity. Your father may feel relieved to know a disease is causing his mental deficiencies, that he’s not just “going crazy” or imagining his problems. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s or another form of irreversible senility, it’s important for you to reassure him that people with these conditions can get along for many years with help from others. Confirming that you want to be one of his helpers may actually improve the bond between you and your aging father.

Dear Robert:

My husband’s parents are going through a difficult time, financially. Although they won’t share all the details, it’s obvious they can’t pay all their bills every month. I received a call from a shopkeeper I know who was embarrassed, but told me Mom hasn’t paid her bill there for four months. Jed, my husband, says that his parents admitted they are suddenly taking in about $500 less than they spend every month.

I’d like to simply offer them the $500, but that would mean we’d have to cut back on necessities, too. Is there some way we can help them without giving them a direct cash subsidy?

Signed, Caught Short In Short Hills

Dear Caught Short:

Whatever the personal reasons, tens of thousands of retired families are experiencing a “shortfall” of income through no fault of their own. Nevertheless, being short of money is never a comfortable situation.

You’re not alone in feeling unable to offer your in‑laws a “subsidy.” But you may still be able to help them escape their difficult situation. First, determine whether the shortfall is likely to continue every month or just reflects a temporary situation. Then help them decide how best to meet their bills despite a reduction in income.

For shortfalls lasting only a few months or quarters, older families can often use home equity loans, cash reserves, sales of assets they no longer want or need, or even personal unsecured loans (from family or friends) to tide them over. If the shortfall appears permanent – perhaps because of reversals in the stock market, lose of home value, or unexpected expenses – they may want to rethink their entire monthly budget and change their lifestyle to reflect their new level of income.

In any case, your warmth and support will help your aging parents find ways to stretch their resources to meet this economic shortfall.

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To help your aging parents maintain their quality of life, think in terms of becoming like flowing water, which over time can create beautiful formations out of the toughest rocks.

© Copyright 2012 by Robert Moskowitz

Robert Moskowitz is the author of “Parenting Your Aging Parents, How To Protect Their Quality of Life — And Yours!” This 300 page hardcover book has been widely acclaimed as the classic work in the field since 1991. It is available at bookstores, or directly from Key Publications. The Web site is: ““. The cost is $21.95 plus $6.95 shipping and handling. If you wish, you can ask Robert Moskowitz your own question for this column by emailing him at: