The Irish Emigrant
August 22, 2011

By Danielle Owen

Q: My dad is 70 and has always been very healthy. It has only been in the last year, since my mum died, that I’ve noticed he is not doing so well, but it’s hard to put my finger on what is wrong. I keep finding bruises on his arms that he can’t always explain; he rarely wants to come out with my daughter and me at the weekends, seems to have more memory lapses (like forgetting he took his meds and taking double the dose), says he is not sleeping well, and forgets to eat and doesn’t always notice wearing the same outfit a few days in a row. He insists he is fine and that I’m just “fussing” but something doesn’t feel right. What should I do?

A: It is very difficult to see someone we love, who used to be self-sufficient, become gradually less so as they age. It is especially difficult when this person used to take care of us, and now we find our roles reversing. It is completely normal for you and your dad to experience some resistance to this change. However, some of the symptoms you have mentioned could indicate a problem he may be having with his medications and/or perhaps his alcohol intake. It might also be helpful to keep in mind that your dad may still be grieving the loss of your mother last year. Do you think he could be experiencing depression, taking more medication than usual (like meds to help him sleep) or using alcohol in a harmful way?

As we grow older, our bodies respond differently to alcohol and medication than when we were younger. It’s helpful to be aware that some of your dad’s current medications may not be mixing well with others, like over the counter meds or herbal remedies, and most medications do not mix well with alcohol. It may seem strange to mention alcohol specifically, but in my experience, some of the symptoms you note potentially indicate a problem. According to SAMHSA & CSAT, signals for concern include:

  • Memory trouble after having a drink or taking medicine
  • Loss of coordination (walking unsteadily, frequent falls)
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Irritability, sadness, depression
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Wanting to stay alone a lot of the time
  • Failing to bathe or keep clean
  • Having trouble finishing sentences or concentrating
  • Difficulty staying in touch with family or friends
  • Lack of interest in usual activities

If you have noticed any of the above, it might be helpful to chat with your dad about your concerns, showing him this list. If he still insists there is nothing to worry about, chat with your own doctor, get advice from your local senior center or program, or perhaps your spiritual advisor. The Irish Pastoral Center runs a great senior program, and you can call Cora Flood to learn more at 617-479-7404. You can also confidentially contact me at the Irish International Immigrant Center 617-542-7654, ext 14, or