As parents age, it’s natural that their physical and mental abilities decline. Many adult children however, wrestle with knowing when their parents’ decline is far enough along that it may be time to get them additional support or place them in an assisted living home. Like so many health issues, there’s no single indicator. Rather, knowing your parent and visiting them at home periodically will allow you to spot a variety of signs that, collectively, may indicate they’re beginning to struggle.
If you don’t live nearby, consider speaking to others who know your loved one. Old friends and close relatives can share their sense of how the person is faring. You also may be able to speak with a parent’s primary doctor with their permission. A more formal approach would be to seek the evaluation of a social worker or professional geriatric care manager. While your loved one may resist this idea, try suggesting it as a professional (and neutral) second opinion, or ask their doctor to “prescribe” it.
While you are speaking with or visiting your parents, keep these topics in mind.
1. Personal care: Notice any changes in your loved one’s standards of personal care. This can range from appearing disheveled and unkempt to less frequent bathing or not changing their clothing often. Not eating properly would also fall in this category. Look for stale, expired, or spoiled foods in the kitchen or whether there is a change in the balance of fresh foods to more packaged or frozen goods. Perhaps there is an increased use of takeout or simpler styles of cooking. Has your loved one experienced noticeable weight loss or weight gain? Either can be an indicator of other medical or mental issues, such as diabetes or dementia.
2. Mobility. Has there been an increase in the number of falls and accidents of a senior loved one? Perhaps they feel more frail when you hug them, or they appear unsteady or unable to balance themselves. Other signs would be having difficulty rising from a chair or bed, going up and down stairs, or getting around their home. If a loved one is using a wheelchair, the move to a facility with adequate space as well as personnel who can safely transfer the person to and from the wheel chair is an important health consideration.
3. Household care. Household neglect can become both a safety and health problem, whether it’s spoiled food, overflowing trash, dead plants, more than usual clutter, piles of laundry or dirty dishes, and neglected pet care tasks such as emptying the cat’s litter box. Notice whether a loved one cleans one or two key areas of the home but not other rooms, which might provide a clue that housekeeping is becoming difficult.
4. Home maintenance. Every home owner knows maintaining a home takes lots of work. Check for piled up mail or newspapers as well as home and yard maintenance that isn’t being kept up. Also be sure to check whether the appliances and smoke detectors are in good working order and for any signs of a kitchen fire, such as charred knobs or singed pot bottoms, towels or pot holders.
5. Money. When determining if a loved one is having difficulty managing their finances look for piles of unopened mail and personal letters, multiple unpaid bills, overdue notices, or a large volume of receipts or thank you letters from charitable organizations. Overdrawn bank accounts may mean that they have paid bills multiple times or fallen victim to a scam.
6. Driving. Take a drive with your loved one behind the wheel, if possible. As you get in, notice if there are any more nicks, dents or body damage than previous, which may reflect signs of careless driving. Check the dashboard to determine if the vehicle has sufficient oil, gas, antifreeze, windshield-wiper fluid or any warning lights. Also notice if they promptly fasten their seat belt, exhibit signs of anxiety or distraction while driving, or whether their driving is impaired, such as driving too close or too slow (see 8 Ways to Assess Your Parent’s Driving).
7. Cognitive decline. Signs of mild cognitive impairment may be taking medications incorrectly or forgetting to take them, not able to fix a meal, leaving on the stove or oven and/or not remembering to eat. Confusion, poor judgment, difficulty following directions, and needing many prompts or reminders are also clues that your loved one needs additional support to keep them safe and healthy.
8. Change in personality. Notice if your loved one is withdrawing from friends and social activities or giving up hobbies as these could be signs of increasing loneliness and depression. Ask if they have social events planned with their friends or neighbors and when they last left the house. Are they continuing to participate in religious activities and clubs they belong to? There may be good reasons they are not participating, but significant changes in social activity may mean social isolation and other emotional concerns.
9. Behavior /Wandering. Seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may progress to the point where they begin wandering, or exhibit behavioral problems such as aggression or anger.
10. Caregiver stress. Often, family members come to realize that their parent’s needs have gone beyond the caregiver’s physical or emotional capabilities, particularly if a loved one has dementia. Sometimes making the decision to move a loved one to an assisted living facility is about taking care of the caregiver and other members of the family who may be feeling the collective strain as well as providing the level of care now needed for a senior family member.
If you notice a loved one is exhibiting a variety of the items mentioned above, it may be time to consider placing them in an assisted living home. Advisors at Priority Placement Services would be pleased to help you locate the ideal new home for your loved one.
By Cathy Chlarson, June 16, 2016