Sometimes it is glaringly obvious that our loved ones need help. Other times it may be obvious to you as someone looking into their lives from the outside but to them, as the changes have been gradual, your loved one may not have noticed or have been ignoring the signs.
This is where having an assessment from a professional to help review all aspects of your loved ones' physical conditions, mental abilities, and current environment. It may be they are still fine living at home with some modifications. They may need some outside help a few days a week. In other cases, they might be better served in a community and in yet others, they may need full-time care.
Red Flags that May Signal Help is Needed
A fall and a trip to the hospital are often the first sign you may have that your loved one needs help. To make sure your loved one does not take a fall and end up in the hospital with broken bones, take some time to evaluate their home for hazards: slippery throw rugs, stairs of any kind without railings. Are all items they use regularly in reach or do they need a step stool to reach things. Also, examine their shoes for issues and their pants as they can become too big as people shrink when they get older.
To assess, observe them over a few hours and at different times of the day. Do they pick up their feet or shuffle and drag. Are their feet normal width or a bit further out which could be a sign of them compensating for balance? Do they have a hard time getting up out of a chair or back down to a seated position? Do they grab furniture or walls as they walk?
There are steps to take so they can stay at home with assistance such as removing throw rugs and other obstacles. Installing grab bars in bathrooms. Rearranging items in closets and cabinets to be within reach. If you are unsure, ask your doctor for a recommendation to a professional to evaluate your loved one in their home environment to see what assistance they may need.
Professional Help: Physical or Occupational Therapist or a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist.
Changes in Appearance
If you see your loved one regularly, this might not be so obvious as it has happened gradually over time. If you see them less often, you may notice huge changes every time you see them.
Have they lost weight, so much that now their clothing is just too big? Does dad skip shaving or grooming his beard. Does mom no longer do her hair? Do they wear the same outfit every day, even with spills and stains? These could all be signs of depression or memory issues.
It may signal a lack of motivation to clean up, it may be that they forgot. Or it could be as simple as not being confident in getting in and out of the shower or using the washing machine and dryer. It may be they just need help and are afraid to ask and it could be something else.
Depression: While it's normal for an older person to have bad days, being lonely after a spouse has passed or sad on a dreary day. But we need to be on the watch for signs of depression: anger or irritability, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, changes in levels of energy, having trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time, eating more than usual or less, thoughts or talking of death or suicide.
Dementia: While it's normal for everyone to forget things more as they age, people with dementia struggle more than normal. They might not remember how tools they use everyday work, dialing a phone or turning on the microwave. Which can lead to not being able to take medications, manage money, or drive.
Listen to your loved ones and watch for changes in behavior. If you don't live close, talk on the phone often and ask friends and neighbors to check in on your loved ones.
Do you find piles of unopened mail and unpaid bills when you visit? This could be a red flag as they might be forgetting and it could be that it is hard for them to figure out, so they put it off.
Because the elderly are the number one target for scammers, it is important to have conversations with our loved ones often and to check up on their finances. If you see large transactions that should not be there or that regular payments are no longer being made, it may be time to step in and help.
Help may be as simple as helping them sort and prioritize mail, or it may mean you or a financial assistant takes over paying bills.
Also, make sure they have their affairs in order. Are there plans in place for someone else to manage finances and even their health should they become incapacitated or pass away.
According to AAA, our nation's seniors are outliving their ability to drive by 7 to 10 years. And as the population ages, in the year 2030, there will be more than 70 million people over the age of 65 and about 85 percent of those will still have a driver's license.
If your loved one is getting tickets or having accidents it may be time to have a talk about no longer driving. Check their car for unreported dents and scratches. If you have any worries there are resources in every city where you and your loved one can get help assessing their driver safety. Here in Kansas City, Mid-America Regional Council has an extensive list of senior driver safety resources.
The pile of pills in the cabinet grows as we age. There is a lot to manage from remembering to take them and when. Plus with multiple doctors prescribing medication, making sure to watch for interaction is vital.
Set up a pill organizer to help make things easier for them to keep track. Ask the pharmacist to check for interactions. And if you notice that they are sleepy, tired, dizzy or anything unusual, talk to the Doctor as drug interaction might be the cause.
Download our Checklist of Activities of Daily Living and assess your loved one's needs. Are you seeing any red flags that indicate you might need to make modifications to their home to help them? Perhaps you might bring in some outside help one or two days a week, or you might assist them with sorting out medications or shopping? And it may be that you need to enlist the help of a professional to determine needs.
We have a couple of other resources for you below. And if you would like us to refer a local Kansas City expert, please let us know. We will reach out to our resources in the community to find you the help you need. You might include in your message where your loved one is located so we can recommend a person in the right area of the metro.
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