Holidays and longer visits offer an opportunity for long-distance caregivers and family members to personally observe older relatives. Family members who have not seen their loved one in a few months may be surprised seeing a parent looking frail or their home in disarray. Regular phone conversations don’t always give a true assessment of their loved one’s situation. Here are some signs it might be time to assess living arrangements.
Weight Loss. One of the most obvious signs of ill health, either physical or mental, is weight loss. The loved one might not have the energy to cook and clean up. Medications might change the way food tastes. Or there might be a health-related issue that needs medical attention.
Balance. Lack of balance might lead to risk for falling. Pay attention to the way your parent walks. Difficulty getting up from a seated position or difficulty walking and or problems with mobility might be a sign of joint or muscle problems. Unexplained bruising could signal falls.
Emotional Well-being. Some of the signs to look for are withdrawal from activities with others, changing sleep patterns, loss of interest in hobbies, lack of interest in normal home chores and changes in personal hygiene. The causes of these changes could be as wide-ranging as depression, dementia, or a health issue.
Memory Loss. Modest memory problems are a fairly common part of aging, and sometimes medication side effects or underlying conditions contribute to memory loss. There’s a difference, though, between normal changes in memory and the type of memory loss that makes it hard to do everyday things such as driving and shopping. Signs of this type of memory loss might include:
- Asking the same questions over and over again
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Not being able to follow instructions
- Becoming confused about time, people and places
Home Maintenance. Pay attention to your parent’s home. Is the home neat? Are bills being paid? Is mail piled up? Is there scorched cookware or spoiled food? Is laundry piled up? Are there unexplained dents in their car? Be sure to check prescriptions and medications for expiration dates to make sure medicines are being taken regularly.
If you see these signs, it might be time for a heart-to-heart conversation with your loved one about their circumstances, their concerns and the steps they would like taken to make things better. A health assessment appointment with their primary care physician might be the first step. Do they need extra help in their home or is it time to explore other residence options?
Information that you might want to gather for future reference include:
- Contact information for physicians, friends, neighbors, clergy, local professionals
- A list of medications and pharmacy contacts
- A financial list of property ownership, debts, income and expenses as well as bank account and credit care information
- Access to vital documents such as will, power of attorney, birth certificate, social security number, insurance policies and driver’s license.
- A copy of senior resources in the community (Usually provided by the Council on Aging.)
- A recent phone book for the community.
Your loved ones will want to be in control of their own lives. Ensure them that having systems in place will allow them to be independent and keep them safe.