Look for These Four Signs Help is Needed When Visiting Aging Loved Ones During the Holidays
Many Americans who provide care to older family members live an hour or more away from their senior loved one. If visiting in person is difficult due to work and children’s schedules, phone calls may be the main method of checking on the senior(s). And that may make it difficult to assess their well-being.
Age-related declines in mental or physical health can happen quickly, and in many cases, seniors are skilled at hiding problems. For many families, holiday visits are the only opportunity to see them in person, so it’s important to pay close attention to how they are doing. During this year’s holiday gatherings, be sure to look for the following warning signs that a loved one may need extra help at home.
One of the most obvious signs of concern is significantweight loss. Possible causes could be cancer, dementia or depression. Seniors may experience fatigue, pain or problems driving that make it difficult for them to go shopping for groceries. Or the effort to prepare a nutritious meal may not seem worthwhile if they live and eat alone. Some medications and the aging process itself can change the way food tastes. If weight loss is a concern, talk to your loved one about maintaining their independence by taking good care of their health, and schedule a doctor’s appointment to address the issue.
Becoming a Fall Risk — Balance and Mobility
Notice how your loved one walks and moves. A reluctance to walk, changes in gait or obvious pain during movement can be a sign of joint, muscle or neurological problems. If your loved one is unsteady, they may be at risk of falling, which can be the greatest risk to their independence. Falling could cause severe injury or worse. (It is a sad fact that 65 percent of seniors who fall, break a hip and go to a nursing home are unable to regain the ability to walk and don’t return home.) If you notice changes in your loved one’s mobility and coordination, make an appointment with their doctor to discuss options to keep them safe and mobile, such as pain management, physical therapy, home safety and mobility aids such as canes, walkers, or if necessary, wheelchairs.
Emotional health is equally as important as physical well-being. Keep an eye out for changes in your loved one’s moods and behavior. You can’t always gauge someone’s emotional state over the telephone, even if you speak daily. Be aware that many older adults won’t talk about their feelings. Note any signs of hearing loss- do they often ask you to repeat what you said? So look for signs of depression or anxiety,changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in hobbies or social activities, changes in home maintenance or personal hygiene.If you notice sudden odd behavior in your loved one, such as confusion or agitation, be sure to seek medical attention. These are common symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI), which is prevalent in seniors and easily resolved with antibiotics.
Attention must also be paid to a senior’s surroundings. For instance, if your loved one has always been a stickler for neatness and paying bills promptly, but you discover excess clutter and piles of unopened mail while visiting, it indicates a problem. Take a walk-through of their home while you’re visiting to see if they are maintaining their usual standards. Be aware that sometimes the signs of trouble are a bit subtler. Scorched cookware could indicate that your loved one forgets food on the stove or in the oven, and moldy food in the fridge may mean they don’t have the energy to clean things out or shop for fresh food. Check the expiration dates on their prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and try to determine if they’re taking their medications as prescribed. Look for safety hazards that could cause a fall or other injury, like clutter on the stairs, cords or throw rugs that they could trip over. You know your loved one and their habits best, so go with your gut if you feel they aren’t able to take care of themselves without some help.