When you don’t live in the same city as your aging parent, it is hard to know if it’s time for help. Here are some basic questions that you can ask on the phone to get a better picture.
What did you do today? Ask about their normal activities—Church, Golf, etc. Have they been actively participating in them? Notice any changes such as missing a golf game because of an illness or medical condition. If they are regularly missing out on some of their activities, then you might want to investigate further. Perhaps they are canceling because they can’t hear as well, and don’t feel as comfortable as they once did. Also, notice any changes in their mental alertness. Once my dad’s signs of dementia started setting in, he quit playing golf altogether.
What did you eat and drink for breakfast/lunch/dinner? Ask them what they ate during their most recent meal. If you don’t get a straight answer, they may be skipping meals, or forgetting what they ate. They may have eaten something that came out of a box. Also, ask what they drank. Make sure your parents aren’t only drinking tea and coffee. One of the most common and preventable problems in the elderly is dehydration.
Have you seen or heard from ___________[one of their friends/family members]? Ask about family and friends who visit or call frequently. If they aren’t sure if they have heard from them, then you should call those people. Make sure to exchange numbers and any other relevant contact information with friends of your parents who frequently visit or join them in activities. How have you been feeling? (If there is a specific medical condition you are interested in, then ask about it) This question is obvious, but sometimes our parents do not want to tell us if anything is wrong with them. They don’t want us to “worry about them”. My dad always says he’s “fine” because he is afraid that I will “throw him in the hospital”. It might take asking this question in a few different ways, but try to get an indication as best you can.