With more and more families dispersed geographically, adult children who live far away from their elderly parents face ongoing worry about their health and safety. As aging parents, particularly those who live alone, face medical and mobility issues, questions relating to their physical, social and psychological well-being arise.
If you’ve begun to recognize the warning signs that your parents need extra assistance as they age, reach out to our team at Hammond & Associates today.
How Do You Know If a Parent’s Needs Have Changed and More Care Is Necessary?
The longer we live, the more we may find that we are no longer able do the things we used to do. As people age, independence can become fiercely guarded. Aging parents may occasionally keep secrets because they feel embarrassed or burdensome.
That is one reason why caring for elderly parents or grandparents can be a challenging, rewarding and sometimes lonely journey. Paying attention to subtle signs of your parents needing help can allow you to develop a care plan that will let them live the highest quality of life possible.
If your parent or parents are still living at home, here are a few things to look for to make sure they are still living well:
- Look for bruises. Broken items or other indications that your loved one has taken a fall. Falls are a leading cause of death and injury among the older population.
- Look for signs of pain. Watch how they move … or how they have stopped moving. This could be a sign that they are experiencing pain.
- Watch for unsteadiness. If your parent seems dizzy, encourage him or her to seek medical attention. Dizziness may be a symptom of something more serious.
- Look for budget cuts. If your aging loved one lives alone, he or she may have an easier time hiding the fact that money is short. Your parent may compensate by cutting back on food or medication. If you know your loved one should have adequate finances to make ends meet, be on the lookout for frivolous spending or “needy” relatives that may be the reason that finances are tight.
- Look at prescriptions. Sometimes older people lose track of time and cannot remember whether they have taken their medication. A simple look at the prescription should give you the date, the dosage and the number of refills. If there seems to be a discrepancy between the prescription date and the number of the pills in the bottle, it may indicate a medication management problem.
- Keep an eye out for weight loss. As people age, they sometimes lose a sense of taste or smell, which makes food less appetizing and can cause weight loss. However, unexplained weight loss is cause for concern. If your loved one is losing weight, you might want to be on the lookout for depression, dementia or physical limitations that make cooking too difficult. Weight loss can also be an indication of disease.
- Pay attention to the living conditions. Does your loved one’s home look like it used to look or is there an indication that home care has become a challenge? For instance, if your mom was always a neat person and things are getting progressively messy, it may indicate a bigger problem. Scorched pots and pans may indicate forgetfulness when cooking food.
- Is the level of forgetfulness normal? Forgetfulness happens to everyone, but when a person has a problem remembering a common word or the name of someone they know extremely well, it may be cause for concern. If you are concerned about your loved one’s level of forgetfulness, you may want to schedule an appointment with a health care provider to make sure that it is not an indication of something more serious.
- Has your loved one’s personality changed? A change in personality may signal depression, illness or a reaction to medications. If you are concerned, stay involved and encourage your loved one to visit a health care provider for a check-up.
Here are additional warning signs for family caregivers to look for in the homes of elderly loved ones:
- Spoiled food that doesn’t get thrown away
- Missing important appointments
- Trouble getting up from a seated position
- Difficulty with walking, balance and mobility
- Uncertainty and confusion when performing once-familiar tasks
- Unpleasant body odor
- Infrequent showering and bathing
- Strong smell of urine in the house
- Noticeable decline in grooming habits and personal care
- Stacks of unopened mail or an overflowing mailbox
- Late payment notices, bounced checks and calls from bill collectors
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Changes in mood or extreme mood swings
- Forgetting to take medications – or taking more than the prescribed dosage
- Diagnosis of dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s
- Unexplained dents and scratches on a car may indicate driving problems
If You Notice Any of the Situations Above, What Can You Do?
First, let your loved one know how much you care and want to make sure that he or she is healthy, and you want them to have a full and active life. You should share your concerns. That may help your loved one open up about worries, fears or challenges that they have not wanted to share before.
Here are some tangible ways to help:
- Offer to go to the doctor with them. If you are concerned about health issues, make it easy for your loved one to seek medical care. Offer to set up an appointment or offer to drive your loved one to a medical appointment. If your loved one chooses to handle medical appointments on his or her own, always ask about the visit and what the follow up steps should be.
- Provide shopping assistance or meals. If cooking has become increasingly difficult, you may want to help your loved one find foods that are healthy and easy to prepare. Many grocery stores now offer pre-cut vegetables and a wide variety of pre-packaged foods. If you cook at home, you could make larger portions, package them individually and deliver meals to your loved one to warm up in a microwave.
- Encourage your loved one to be safe. If your loved one is a bit unsteady, ask if a cane or walker would help? When you visit, ask if there is anything that you could move from a high shelf to a lower shelf so he or she does not have to reach. Look at the condition of steps, throw rugs, runners and handrails. If there is a light out, simply offer to change it, which may prevent a fall.
If you are concerned about a specific health care issue and your loved one does not take it seriously, consider enlisting the support of his or her health care provider. While the provider may not be able to share details with you or discuss the health of your loved one, he or she can listen to your concerns. Your input will help the provider be aware of the issues, ask questions and look for signs or symptoms that may indicate a problem.
Once the decision has been made that a parent needs assistance, the next step is determining what kind. Adult daycare, meal delivery, psychiatric counseling, home health services, home safety modifications, interaction at a senior center, installing an emergency response service—these are just a few things that can make a big difference to an older adult living alone, who most likely wants to remain at home. Assisted living isn’t always the only answer.
Hammond & Associates Offers Eldery Planning Support to Families in Montgomery County
Observing unexpected changes with your parents can often lead to alarm. Look for behavior that’s uncharacteristic and deviates from the norm. Gathering information, as calmly and objectively as possible, is the first step toward being an effective caregiver. You don’t have to go it alone. Getting the support and information you need early on can help you navigate the unexpected twists and turns along the caregiving journey.
Contact our highly skilled elder law team today! We understand how important your relationship is with your parents, and we have experience assisting families just like you through similar situations.