Holiday family gatherings provide a great opportunity to check up on elderly parents and determine how well they are getting along. A visit to their home can reveal if they are caring for themselves in consistently healthy ways. Observing how your elderly parents cope with the increased noise and activity levels, socializing with large groups of people, and handle a disruption to their normal schedule can tell you a lot about their emotional resilience and alert you to potential senior care needs.
As your family enjoys holiday gatherings with your elderly loved ones over coming weeks, here are five areas of common changes in behavior to be on the lookout for that might indicate a problem.
1. Are your parents taking good care of themselves?
How do your parents look to you? Are they dressed in clean clothing appropriate for the weather and time of day? Are they grooming and bathing regularly? Be attentive to changes in weight that might indicate poor eating habits. Snoop inside the fridge to be sure it’s stocked with a good variety of healthy foods that are still fresh. Do their finances appear in good order: bills current, checkbook balanced, with an appropriate amount of funds available to them?
Is their home reasonably clean and tidy? Ensure that all of the lights and smoke detectors are functional. How does the yard look? You know how your folks like to maintain their environment and personal presentation. Glaring changes in senior care can point to dementia, depression, or physical pain.
2. Do you notice signs of memory loss?
Some degree of memory loss is natural with age, but the subtle signs of early stage dementia often go unnoticed by people who see your loved one every day:
Asking for the same information over and over
Losing track of important dates and events in current time
Forgetting significant life events that occurred in the past
Becoming lost or disoriented in familiar surroundings
Acting as if she is performing a chore, but is just going through repetitive motions
3. Are conversations awkward and frustrating?
People with early-stage Alzheimer's may suddenly find participating in give-and-take conversations very challenging. They may struggle with vocabulary and forget the accurate name for common objects, substituting “hand-clock” for “watch,” for instance. Does your mother suddenly stop mid-sentence and not remember her point? It can be frustrating when dad frequently repeats himself when speaking, but he may not be doing it on purpose. Such conversational ticks can be a sign of early-stage Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Association states that a person with dementia who repeats a word, question, or activity is trying to make sense of the world in the face of cognitive decline caused by brain cell deterioration. It is an attempt to find comfort, security, and familiarity.
4. Are your parents socially active?
Does it seem as if your parents are finding it difficult to get out of the house regularly to keep up with friends, events, and outside hobbies? Does Dad plant himself in front of the TV for hours at a time every day? Does Mom spend most of her day napping? If your parents seem isolated and apathetic with decreased pleasure in their usual activities, this can indicate a deeper problem, such as depression, illness, or dementia.
5. Do you observe any mood changes?
Is your normally patient and kind-hearted mother suddenly irritable, angry, and aggressive? Is your Dad uncharacteristically suspicious and accusatory? Verbal or physical behavioral outbursts and dramatic personality changes are common manifestations of dementia, especially as people become frustrated or are out of their comfort zones. Remember that these behaviors are not deliberate and are caused by the degeneration in the frontal lobes that normally control moods and emotions.
It’s probably hard for your parents to admit they need help, and they might not even realize they need senior care assistance. Share your concerns 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 parents live an independent and fulfilling life for as long as possible.