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EDITORIAL: Now is good time to talk about aging

As you're gathering with family members this holiday season, set aside some time to talk about an uncomfortable but important topic: Aging relatives who may need help dealing with their health and well-being.

The issue is affecting more families than ever before. Minnesota's senior population is doubling as baby boomers reach retirement age. At least 60,000 Minnesotans are turning 65 every year from now through 2030. Soon there will be more senior citizens than schoolkids in the state, according to Face Aging MN, which is made up of members of two long-term care provider associations, Care Providers of Minnesota and LeadingAge Minnesota.

How do you know when to have the conversation? Face Aging MN shares these signs that may indicate an older relative needs help:

• Trouble with balance when walking, getting up from a chair or using stairs

• Weight loss or gain

• Decrease in attention to personal hygiene

• Recent injuries such as cuts, bruises or burns

• Forgetfulness and losing things

• Neglect of housekeeping

• Piles of unopened mail, newspapers or bills

• Late notices for utilities or other bills

• Car dents or scratches

• Old and expired food

• Overuse or underuse of medications

If people see these warning signs and need help knowing what to do, they are urged to call the Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433. Representatives offer assistance in evaluating the situation and share information about local resources that could help.

Patti Cullen, president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, said that recognizing the signs at an earlier stage is better than waiting until help is urgently needed. "Even if your aging loved one appears to be in good health, it's still important to start the discussion," Cullen said. "A simple conversation can go a long way to helping your loved one age well."

Here are some questions to ask yourself: Should your loved one be professionally evaluated? Are there modifications that could be made at home to make it safer, such as moving the bedroom to the ground level and installing brighter lighting, clearing clutter? Does your loved one need meals or groceries delivered to ensure good nutrition? Does your loved one need more support, like regular home health care visits? Is it time to consider a move to a more supportive setting?

Face Aging MN offers these tips for planning the discussion:

• Wait until you have time alone to talk with your aging loved one to raise the issue, if possible.

• Have a conversation with other concerned family members so no one feels cut out of the loop, if possible.

• Do some homework on potential resources and solutions before having the conversation with your loved one.

Broaching the topic may seem awkward for some families. It's understandable that some are nervous about raising health and aging questions. But, as Face Aging MN points out, almost every family must face the need to evaluate issues and make decisions together with older relatives about necessary changes to keep them healthy and safe.