The word “home” can conjure up all kinds of good feelings such as safety, love, warmth and family. It’s a place we want to be and where we are most comfortable. While there are many good reasons seniors want to stay home, one of the fears that drives this desire is the potential loss of independence. They want to avoid being a burden on their families and to maintain their lifestyle. However, they often deny their true need for care and may make bad decisions about what they really need to remain at home.
It is important for adult children and others caring for their parents to look for signs that their elderly loved one needs help. Ignoring these warning signs will likely lead to the kind of dependence that they are trying to avoid. This article will give you some easily identifiable signs to look for that fall into one of three categories:
•Physical symptoms and mental or emotional changes
•Loss of attention signals
Also, we’ll discuss a number of ways you can help your senior ensure that they have the assistance they need in order to live safely and comfortably.
Physical symptoms and emotional changes
How do you recognize the signs of aging and need for care for your parents? Here are the physical and emotional changes to look for:
Do your parents seem tired all the time? Persistent fatigue and loss of energy are two of the physical signs that your parents might be struggling and may need assistance.
Are your parents still engaged in their usual social activities? When you talk with them on the phone, ask if they are still going to church services or meeting friends for coffee. Loss of interest in socializing or hobbies could be a signal of depression. It’s also possible that there is an underlying physical health issue that is causing them to back away from the things they once enjoyed.
Have you noticed a major change in mood or outlook? Do your parents go from happy to crying in seconds, or come across as more irritable and grumpy than normal? Do not ignore these signs. In fact, keep an eye out to see if that persists over a stretch of days or weeks. You might also check with friends and neighbors to see if they are noticing these behavior changes as well.
Do your parents have difficulty getting up or standing? See if their gait has changed or if they are using items to balance themselves as they walk from room to room. Take a closer look in the bathroom at towel bars, window sills and shower curtains. If your senior is having trouble getting off the toilet they could have developed a several-step process of using one or more of these items for support.
Have you noticed that your parents are losing weight or have very little appetite? Check the kitchen for junk food or items that are easy to prepare but are lacking in nutritional value. In either case, your parents could be putting themselves at risk of lacking proper nutrition that could lead to other more serious health issues.
These physical and emotional signs are all tough issues to face, but ignoring any of them could prove more dangerous and costly to your loved one.
Loss of attention signals and environmental clues
Now, let’s look at behaviors that signal a lack or loss of attention:
Look at your parent’s appearance. Is clothing dirty or unkempt or is your loved one neglecting personal hygiene? If anything seems off, such as failure to keep up with daily good grooming habits, it could be a sign of depression, dementia or other health issues.
Check for diminished driving skills such as slow response time or rolling through stop signs. Other warnings are missing turns because they can’t read the sign or braking quickly to avoid rear-ending someone. If driving skills are impaired due to physical ailments, this can put your loved one’s life at risk, and put the lives of others in danger as well.
Note signs that demonstrate difficulty concentrating or memory loss. This may include a lack of interest in reading, missed appointments and mishandled medications. Check for partially read books or magazines, or improper placement of items around the house. You may receive repeated phone calls at odd hours. Carefully examine prescription bottles and check the refill date against the number of pills in the bottle. You can also call the pharmacy to check on the status of timely refills.
Watch for situations that indicate poor judgment. This can come in the form of deciding against going to the doctor because your parent “just went last week,” even though it was an appointment with another doctor for a different health issue.
One more place to look for clues is in your loved one’s living environment. Next time you go to visit your loved one, take a really close look around the home:
Look for evidence of poor housekeeping and lack of home maintenance. These are sure signs that something isn’t right.
Check the refrigerator, freezer and drawers. Make note if food has spoiled, or if there is nothing there because your parent can’t get to the grocery store. If things are really messy that could be a sign of having difficulty cleaning tight, cluttered places.
Inspect the top of furniture and countertops. Dishes piling up, dust and dirt are signs that household tasks are becoming more difficult and are therefore going undone.
Look up to check fans and ceilings. The inability to lift arms and climb stools may have prevented your loved one from cleaning soot and grime from high places.
Look down at floors and stairways. See if shaky hands have spilled drinks and food, soiling vinyl, wood, carpet and walkways. Notice if frayed carpets, throw rugs, objects and furniture are creating tripping hazards. Check for clutter under beds and sofas – this may be a fire hazard.
Examine the mail. Ensure that bills are being paid and correspondence being answered. If not, it could be a sign of something serious.
Any or all of these signs may cause frustration and concern. Most important, these clues point to the fact that something needs to be done to help your loved one remain independent.
Taking action and where to seek help
Now that you’ve completed your assessment, it is time to take action.
Share your concerns with your loved one. Talk to your parent openly and honestly. It may be helpful to include others who care about your loved one in the conversation.
Encourage a medical checkup. If you noticed a number of the physical warning signs such as weight loss or depressed mood, encourage your loved one to schedule a doctor visit. Depending on the situation, you might offer to make the call yourself or accompany them to the doctor. It is also important for you to ask about follow-up visits and any medications or therapies that may have been prescribed.
Address any safety issues around the home. Start by pointing out your concerns about safety, and make a plan to resolve them. The changes needed could be as simple as installing better lighting and removing rugs or other potential hazards. You may need to consider installing a grab bar in the bathroom to prevent falls or a hand rail on the outside steps.
Consider home care services. This is particularly important if your loved one is having trouble taking care of personal grooming or can’t get to the store. In-home care services include everything from cleaning the house and preparing meals to running errands and assisting with daily activities such as bathing and dressing.
Note: try not to get discouraged if your loved one dismisses your concerns. You may need to contact their doctor for guidance.
Tip: Create a list of your concerns before talking to your parent. The list can help you stay focused and let your loved one know that you are truly concerned. Leaving the list behind may also give your parent the motivation they need to get appropriate help.
There are many community services that can assist with the care of your loved one. Meals-on-Wheels provides regular and nutritious meals. Also, check with the local agency or council on aging in your senior’s home town for help and information. Many offer both assessment services and assistance with signing up needed care.
Remind your loved one that you are acting out of concern and love, and that you’re trying to help them remain as independent as possible. Doing so can help them maintain their health for years to come.
Think about your next steps, and how you can create your own action plan:
My personal deadline for assessing the signs of aging is:
Resources I need to search, talk to, or meet with before sharing my concerns with my loved one are:
The safety concerns I need to address right away are:
The Home Instead Senior Care family network of locally owned franchise offices was developed with a passionate desire to be your trusted in-home care agency, to help your family keep your aging mother, father, grandparents or friends in their home as they grow older.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.