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When is it time to step in and help aging parents?

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COBB COUNTY, Ga. -

It's never an easy conversation, but it's a really critical one. As our parents get older, many of us wonder if they're doing OK on their own, or if they might be struggling and need some help.

The Littlefields of Cobb County have been asking themselves those questions for four years now.
     
Richard Littlefield's children would call him in Kentucky. Each time, he'd reassure them he was fine and didn't need him. But gradually, they all began to realize that might not be true and it might be time to bring their dad home.
   
Littlefield has lived a good life, he served in Europe in World War II, married and raised four children and worked for 30 years as an engineer for the Ford Motor Company.

This spring, the 87-year-old left the Kentucky house he called home for a half-century to move in with his son, David.
 
"Every now and then, I'd think about it, you know. I'm getting older and what in the heck am I going to do," Richard said.

Four years ago, Littlefield's adult children noticed he was having memory problems, but how do you bring that up?

"I was very nervous. I mean, a lot of anxiety," said David Littlefield.

David is a counselor, but he and his sisters we're sure exactly what to say.

"To find the right words, to find words that were caring and non-threatening," said Debi McCarthy. "You don't just jump in with a conversation that says, ‘You're going to have to move someday.'"

Rae Lynne Mattis, a licensed clinical social worker, encourages adult children to ask their parents how they see their future.
      
"I want to be respectful of what you need from me later on," Mattis said. "Have you been having thoughts about what it might be like later on down the road, what you might like when things change, and you might not feel as independent, or as strong and healthy as you feel right now."

"You have to have the small conversations first, if you want it to be a comfortable transition for your parent," said Debi.

First, Richard's daughters asked if they could help him manage his money.

"I came to the conclusion that I couldn't do it for myself anymore," Richard said.

They gradually began asking if it was safe for him to live alone.

"And no arguments, or anything like that. I made up my mind when I knew it was my time," Richard said. "I'm going to have to go and live with David."

Richard's surrounded by his old clocks, and he knows he's still the father at his son's house, and always will be.

"Your parents are your parents.  If you're 80 and they're 100, you're still, they're your parents.  It makes a difference," Richard said.

And after years of reassuring his kids he's doing fine, Richard Littlefield really is.

"I see a much different face, I see a much different smile.  And I'm grateful for that," said Debi McCarthy.

Debi says her family's saving grace is that they started talking early and they planned this move together. They also included their father's doctor in the conversation.

If you don't live near your parents, or you're not sure how they're doing, the Alzheimer's Association has a list of tips and questions to help you assess their situation. Click here to read more.

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