If you live some distance from your family, you probably have had a holiday visit with your aging loved ones. This visit may have been perhaps, the first opportunity in several months that you have had to personally observe them and their home environment.
In the meantime, you’ve probably relied on regular telephone conversations and information passed along by closer-living relatives to gauge their wellbeing. Absence, even for a short period, often allows us to observe a situation with fresh eyes upon our return. For this reason, visits during the holidays can reveal a great deal about our aging loved ones.
Have they lost or gained weight? Are they sleeping too much or too little? How is their balance? Are they walking with any discomfort or changes in coordination? (Note: certain medications can cause joint pain, muscle issues, dizziness and drowsiness.)
If you noticed changes in physical appearance and mobility, make sure these concerns are addressed by her primary care doctor. Sudden odd behavior or confusion? This could be a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs are very prevalent in elders and, while they are easily resolved with antibiotics, they cause serious symptoms that can mimic or exacerbate dementia-related behaviors.
To gauge whether a loved one is staying active and getting valuable social interaction, it helps to have a general idea of what their usual schedule is like and the kinds of pastimes they enjoy.
Are they still going to church on Saturday or seeing the hairdresser on Friday? Do they still take a nightly stroll around the block or enjoy sitting down with a good book in the afternoon? Was your mom was still engaged in her normal routines, such as grocery shopping, preparing meals, basic housekeeping, reading the newspaper and maintaining her personal hygiene.
If your mom has stopped partaking in her usual daily activities, maybe it’s time to look into at-home care.
A thorough look around your loved one’s house can speak volumes about their physical abilities and mental state. Are bills were getting paid? Or are they unopened on her desk and lost between sofa cushions? This is the time when her POA needs to step in and either pay the bills for them or have the bills sent right to the POA.
Pay close attention to the state of the kitchen as well. Is mom remembering to turn the stove off? If not, it’s time to disconnect the stove and oven and let the caregiver take over meal preparation. Additional signs of unsafe cooking include scorched pots and damaged cookware.
Other household indicators to look for include piles of laundry, bathroom(s) that have descended into unsanitary conditions, and expired food in the fridge and freezer. Keep in mind that many seniors tend to put extra effort into their personal care and their home just before visitors arrive to keep up appearances. However, just because there are no obvious warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing is amiss. You know your loved one best, so be on the lookout for even subtle indications that they may be having trouble.
Many older people do not like taking medicine–they forget or just ignore the meds. If they skip a dose, it is easy to see when there are pills that aren’t being taken. It’s good to help them organize and purge the old medications and have someone check on mom and see that she’s taking her meds.
How to Handle a Senior’s Decline
If you see a pattern of decline in your loved one, but you’re not sure how to help or where to start, start with having an honest conversation with them. Mention your concerns and the steps you can take to improve their health and safety while helping them retain their independence.
- Discuss the idea of a having a health assessment done by your loved one’s primary care physician.
- Your loved one may need help with housecleaning, laundry and/or bathing and meds management. Ask them how they would feel about having a home health aide visit a couple times a week. This would allow her to continue living in her own home longer.
- Propose making an appointment with an elder law attorney to ensure that all your loved one’s legal questions are answered and their documents are in order.
- Identify sources of support that can be your eyes and ears when you go back home. This list may include neighbors, family, friends and professionals. Make sure everyone on the list has your contact information in case of an emergency.
The more support systems you have in place and information you have gathered, the more likely your loved one will be able to remain independent and safe in their own home. Being proactive during your visit will give you peace of mind, even as you return home from your holiday.