Houston families are busy anticipating a visit home for the holidays. Visits to the family home rekindle magical memories such as crackling fires…the sweet smell of baking pies…crisp autumn air and leaves crunching underfoot.
However, a holiday trip home to visit aging parents can be met with stacks of unpaid bills, untended flower beds or laundry piled high in the basement.
Many seniors do not ask for help – particularly because they often fear that they will be a burden to their families or lose their independence. Therefore, it is very important that their caregivers, grown children or other family members look for signs that may indicate that they need some assistance in their everyday lives.
More than half (52%) of family members presently caring for an older relative started doing so because the senior relative had an injury, illness or medical condition that left them less able to function independently. However, there are other issues, such as depression, poor nutrition, death of a spouse, isolation or loneliness that can further compromise an older relative’s physical and mental health in just a short period of time.
How can you tell if your senior loved one needs extra help? Below are 10 signs that you’re older relative may need assistance:
1. Household bills piling up – Seniors can feel overwhelmed by the simple task of opening and responding to daily mail, as well as balancing a checkbook, particularly if eye sight is deteriorating. This can result in overdue bills, bounced checks, utilities being turned off due to lack of payment and other creditor issues.
2. Reluctance to leave the house – Rather than ask for help, seniors who are having trouble, e.g. walking, remembering directions, seeing, or hearing, will slowly pull away from their community/friends and isolate themselves. If left unresolved, this isolation can lead to loneliness and depression, as well as malnutrition and other health concerns.
3. Losing interest in preparing/eating meals – Seniors who suddenly find themselves alone, who have become lonely over time or are easily overwhelmed by cooking, tend not to eat properly. One sign that poor eating habits are forming is improper selection of food in the house (not well-balanced), expired or rotten food in the refrigerator or signs of excessive weight loss (clothes much looser). An aging person may eat enough calories to get by, but may suffer nutritionally. Studies have found that poor diet can increase the risk of dementia and weaken the immune system.
4. Declining personal hygiene – Changes in appearance are the most obvious sign that some assistance is needed. These changes may occur because doing the laundry or getting in and out of the tub has become too physically challenging. Many who live alone also fear slipping and falling in a shower or bathtub with no one to help him or her get up.
5. Decline in driving skills – Look for evidence of parking or speeding tickets, fender-benders, dents and scratches on the senior’s car as signs that driving skills may be deteriorating. Decreased ability to see, poor sense of direction, inability to merge into traffic, driving way under the speed limit and slow reaction time is a recipe for disaster with senior driving.
6. Signs of scorched pots and pans – This may be a sign of short-term memory loss or even the onset of Alzheimer’s, as pots used in cooking are forgotten on the open flame of the stove and burn.
7. Symptoms of depression – Depression causes marked changes in behavior and one’s daily routine over time. Many seniors feel isolated, like prisoners in their own home, particularly if a health condition or the deaths of close friends or a spouse keeps them from going to the places they once enjoyed. Feelings of hopelessness or despair, increased listlessness, and not wanting to get dressed can all be indications of a problem. Other signs include decreased visits with family members and friends, change in sleeping patterns (sleeping long periods or not sleeping at all) and lack of interest in usual hobbies and activities.
8. Missed doctors’ appointments and social engagements – While this can be a symptom of increased forgetfulness, it is often simply a result of not having transportation and not knowing how to access transportation options on their own.
9. Unkempt house – Changes in housekeeping may occur simply because it is too difficult or tiring. This is especially troubling if a parent used to keep the house neat and orderly. From dirty laundry to dirty dishes, these everyday tasks become too much to handle on their own.
10. Losing track of medications – Missed doses and medication mistakes (overdosing and running out of pills before the next prescription can be refilled) can lead to very serious medical complications. Older people often take multiple prescriptions for various health conditions, which can be overwhelming without assistance and reminders.
It is crucial that family members keep an eye out for their older loved ones and know how and when to assist them, even if the senior doesn’t reach out and ask for the help himself.