We have a 2001 Chevy Suburban. It is our yard work and “dog transportation” vehicle. It long has been retired as the family vehicle. Frankly, certain features on the vehicle do not work consistently or at all. I discovered that one of those “features,” the gas gauge, fits into the “not working consistently” category.

I discovered this at the intersection of 33rd and Vine on a busy Saturday afternoon. I called AAA, it dispatched a truck, and I waited. I turned on my emergency flashers as I sat at the intersection.

Most people would come up behind me, see the flashers and move to a different lane. But others would just pull up to the back of my vehicle and sit there, even though the flashers were flashing.

One particular person pulled up. The person sat behind me through two circulations of the signal light — well over five minutes. People honked at both of us. Finally, the person pulled around me, with a cigarette in one hand and a cellphone in the other. It was obvious the person was too busy to look up while she was driving to see if there was a problem.

It is not uncommon for someone to come into my office and say, “Dad was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In thinking about it, we have seen signs for a long time.” In one case, a family admitted to me that for more than 10 years, dad had not been able to use a telephone, even though previous to that he could operate it. Only now did the family figure out something must have been wrong.

When we are close to someone, many times it is difficult to objectively see a decline in health. Whether it is because the change is so gradual, or compensation by the family, or just denial, all can be factors in failing to see the obvious.

This can especially be true in a spousal situation. The husband or wife will not acknowledge the decline in his or her spouse; or there might be efforts to cover the decline. Unfortunately, many times the “well spouse” begins his or her own decline, prematurely, trying to take care of the ill spouse.

Our primary focus in my office is working with families dealing with chronic illnesses. Many of our calls come in during or just after holidays. Children have come back to town and seen a dramatic change in mom or dad, or both of them.

I understand. In caring for my grandmother who lived in Fort Worth, Texas, I kept plowing away. I was determined to keep her home. I was convinced she was OK (because she wanted to be OK and I wanted to believe it).

Then on one visit, I realized how dirty my grandmother’s house was. I will not go into detail, but it broke my heart to think that my grandmother was living in such conditions — my grandmother, who always exemplified a great housekeeper, cook and caregiver. I realized I had to do something, as her caregiver. I was lucky it was not too late.

Frankly, it is never too early to start to help. While I encourage my families to stay at home as long as possible, I always say, “It must be done safely.”

From a legal standpoint, be sure some type of plan is in place. Be sure to meet with an attorney experienced in caring for people with a chronic illness. Discuss what is happening and discuss alternatives (legal, financial, community and government resources). Outside help might be appropriate and might allow more opportunity to live independently.

Though I realized my grandmother could not live at home any longer, the intervention by me allowed her to spend her last four years in a comfortable assisted-living facility, in relatively good health and quite involved in daily life. She died at 96 years of age.

Whether you are driving a car or overseeing someone’s care, you need to look up and pay attention. Be aware of the flashing red lights. By paying attention, you will see when trouble is developing.

And of course, it is always wise to be sure everything is working properly, especially your gas gauge.

Randy Clinkscales founded Clinkscales Elder Law Practice in 1985. He is a 1980 graduate of Washburn Law School and has represented clients at the administrative, county, state and federal levels.