The holidays are coming up, and family gatherings provide a built-in opportunity to check up on aging parents and determine how well they are managing to age in place.
A visit to their home can reveal if they are caring for themselves in healthy ways. Observing the way elderly loved ones cope with the increased noise and activity levels, socialize with large groups of people, and handle a disruption to their routine can reveal a lot about their resilience and alert family members to otherwise hidden risk factors.
This holiday season, be on the lookout for these warning signs that might indicate a need for intervention.
1. Difficulty managing medications
According to the CDC, 50% of prescriptions in the US are taken incorrectly. That includes improper timing, dosage, frequency, and duration. Medication nonadherence can be fatal, especially in seniors whose health may rely on certain medications. Caregivers should keep an eye out for missed doses, overdoses, difficulty reading directions on bottles, and numerous prescriptions from different doctors. They should also listen for talk about medications being too expensive.
2. Missed or excessive doctor/hospital visits
Many people, regardless of age, have missed a doctor’s appointment due to a scheduling conflict or a similar situation. However, if your aging loved one repeatedly misses appointments, it could point to a larger issue like memory loss or even fear of driving. An excessive number of doctor or hospital visits can also point to senior health issues.
3. Unexplained weight loss
Unexplained weight loss is a health concern, no matter your age. Even if your senior loved one doesn’t look like they’ve lost weight, look for other warning signs like a shortage of food in the home or spoiled food in the refrigerator. Also, take note if they’ve stopped cooking altogether.
4. Unsteady while walking
The risk of falls increases proportionately with age. In fact, falls are the leading cause of death from injury among individuals 65 and older. If your loved one has fallen more than once, is reluctant to walk even short distances, has unexplained injuries, has expressed fear of falling, or has difficulty navigating stairs, it may be time to have a conversation about senior care—whether it’s personal care, memory care, or long-term nursing.
5. Noticeable decline in personal cleanliness
Hygiene plays an important role in senior health. Not only does it show independence, but lack of personal cleanliness can also be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of cognitive decline. During the holidays, watch for untidy appearance and noticeable body odor. If you can, also see if your aging loved one is wearing the same outfits for days at a time.
6. Change in behavior or personality
The holidays are a happy and joyous time. However, if your elderly parent has significant mood or behavioral fluctuations, there may be underlying health issues that require caregiver intervention. Take note if your aging loved one is acting more anxious or depressed or is easily upset. Also, keep an eye out for a lack of interest in usual activities or noticeable changes in daily routine or sleep patterns.
7. Reluctance to leave the house
Has your loved one started changing their visiting patterns with friends and/or family? Are they less involved in social or religious activities than they used to be? This isolation, especially over the holidays, can be a sign of depression and other mental health issues.
8. Altered communication patterns
If your senior loved one is communicating with your less frequently or if the quality of those communications has declined, it may be time to talk to them about senior care. Likewise, changes to vision or hearing can both point to a decline in senior health and wellbeing.
9. Trouble performing daily housekeeping tasks
Chores are a regular part of homeownership. Hence, an inability to perform these tasks could mean it’s no longer safe for your senior loved one to age in place. At this year’s holiday gathering, look out for dirty laundry or dishes piling up, simple home repairs not being made, and lights not working. Likewise, see if they’ve been adjusting the thermostat or tending to the home’s exterior as needed.
10. Unpaid bills or unopened mail
Much like chores and daily housekeeping tasks, checking the mail is a regular part of homeownership. If your aging loved one is not tending to their mail or their bills, it may be time to bring in professional help—before it starts affecting their finances.
It can be hard for any parent or older family member to admit they need help or can no longer age in place, and they might not even realize they need assistance.
If faced with this situation over the holidays, share concerns with your elderly family member candidly and lovingly. Offer to arrange an appointment with their primary care doctor for a standardized cognitive assessment that can help detect objective signs of impairment.
Early detection, diagnosis, and treatment can help your older loved ones live an independent and fulfilling life for as long as possible.
The Episcopal Church Home can help to find the solution that’s right for your loved one and you. Schedule a tour to see our facility in person. You can also learn about our levels of senior care here.