Posted on November 20, 2015 by Angela Weisser
Despite advances in health care, the aging process itself can limit an older adult’s ability to carry out basic daily living activities. Health problems aren’t always obvious, especially for older adults. Signs of declining health or abilities can be so subtle that neither the parent – nor their children or caregiver – may realize help is needed.
Some seniors may avoid talking about their difficulties or deny them altogether, insisting everything is okay, even when it’s not. They may feel guilty about needing help: “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone” – or afraid their life would change if they spoke up: “If I say something, I could lose my home and independence.”
However, by learning how to recognize unspoken indicators of underlying illnesses or other age-related issues, family caregivers can properly address them before they lead to more serious problems.
Below is a checklist of signs to look for when caring for an older person. If just one applies to your situation, it might be time to start talking about care options with your parent and siblings.
__ Bizarre Changes in Behavior
Be aware of any sudden changes in behavior. Depression, side effects from medication and health conditions can cause aging adults to neglect their home, health and hygiene. Irritability, anxiety and mood swings may be initial indicators that something isn’t quite right.
__ Unusual or Unkempt Appearance
Issues like arthritis and joint pain can affect an aging adult’s dexterity, making it difficult to get dressed. Take note of your parents’ overall appearance. Is Dad wearing the same sweatshirt every day instead of his typical button-downs? Is Mom wearing slip-on sandals or avoiding shoes that tie even if they aren’t appropriate for the weather?
__ Poor Hygiene
A very common sign of difficulty in caring for oneself is bathing or showering less often. Decreases in balance and mobility can cause older people to avoid bathing or showering due to fear of falling. Also, the sense of smell decreases with age, so Mom or Dad may not realize their personal hygiene needs attention.
__ Changes in Diet
The senses of smell and taste are related and both diminish with age. Eating may no longer hold the appeal it once did. Taste and smell play a role in the enjoyment of life as well as safety. Decreased taste and smell can mean that meals are skipped or spoiled food isn’t recognized. Also, dangers like the smell of natural gas or smoke may go unnoticed. Keep an eye on your aging family members’ weight and eating habits, and take stock of the food they keep in their pantry and refrigerator. Is it expired? Are they lacking fresh food and relying on heavily processed items?
__ A Messy House
Is the yard overgrown? Are newspapers piling up outside? Are there stacks of unopened mail in the house or piles of laundry or trash? Your parent may no longer have the energy or ability to perform the household chores necessary to maintain a clean home.
__ Trouble Keeping Track of Medication
Accidentally missing a dosage – or taking too much – can result in serious health issues. If your parent is struggling to keep track of his or her medication regimen, it could be time to get outside help.
Most of us aren’t with our parents 24/7, so it may be difficult to recognize these signs right away. Ask a sibling or friend of the family – someone who sees your mom or dad regularly – if they have noticed any signs that daily living activities are too much for them to handle. If so, talk with Mom or Dad about the kind of help they may need, and research home care, independent living and assisted living options. Starting the discussion early and creating a plan together is key. Ultimately, it will mean peace of mind and a higher quality of life for everyone involved.