Contrary to the way older people are typically portrayed in advertisements and movies, the process of aging does not automatically mean that a person will become increasingly incompetent and helpless. Aging people are people in transition, and the need for eldercare is defined by their ability, not their age. Caregivers need to develop a plan for when their loved ones may need assistance.

Caregivers must know what is normal and what is not. Things may look like business as usual on the outside, and some physical and mental changes are barely noticeable. Once in a while, we all forget details and put things off, but when a pattern of neglect develops, it may be that a more serious situation is at hand. Caregivers must make the effort to sharpen their observational skills and proactively look for patterns of neglect. Often a physical examination will reveal a medical condition that can be treated.

Caregivers should look for specific warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Statistically, families ignore the early warning signs because they incorrectly identify intermittently odd behaviors as a normal part of aging and untreatable senility. Warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, difficulty in performing familiar tasks, problems with language, misplacing things, disorientation to time and place, and changes in mood or behavior. The earlier you detect and discuss your observations with your elder, the better. Seeking help early can save families heartache and money.

Caregivers should have an open dialogue with their elders. When eldercare issues demand immediate attention, the next step is to talk about them. But beware – caregivers are about to enter a potential communication minefield. Without knowing the most effective way to initiate these extremely sensitive conversations with your elder, the more likely your elder will shut down and not allow you to help. Make a plan to discuss the elder’s care and make sure any other family members are on board with the plan.