Visiting older friends or loved ones over the holidays can often be a big wake up call. It is shocking how quickly someone can lose their independence or health when it has been a while since you were able to get together.
Some things you may have noticed and what it may mean:
Change in weight. - An unintentional weight loss can be related to many factors. Difficulty cooking because of decreased strength, stamina, vision or confusion can lead to weight loss. In some cases people lose their sense of taste or smell so they may not be as interested in eating as good doesn't taste as good as it used to. It is always a good idea to check with a doctor when there is an unexpected weight loss. Underlying conditions like depression, dementia or something more serious can also lead to unintended weight loss.
- Memory Loss - Everyone forgets things from time to time and it is not necessarily a sign of doom. There is a difference between normal changes in memory and the type of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Are memory changes limited to forgetting a phone number or misplacing keys? Or is it something more concerning, such as having trouble following directions, how to do familiar tasks or getting lost in familiar neighborhoods? A doctor can check for medication side effects, malnutrition or other issues that can lead to memory changes.
- Change in Appearance - If your normally put together friend or relative now looks disheveled with dirty clothes or poor hygiene, this could indicate a problem. It may now be too hard to do things like get dressed and bathe independently or they may have forgotten. Fear of falling also leads to people limiting their activity.
- Changes in the Home - Similar to personal appearance, housekeeping may have slipped. You may notice stains on the floors, piles of clutter, burnt out light bulbs and other signs that keeping up the house is becoming an issue. This may also be due to physical issues completing these tasks or to confusion and forgetfulness.
- Damage to Cars - Do you notice damage to automobiles that seems out of the ordinary? The driver may be having trouble driving, even having accidents, without letting anyone know. Giving up the ability to drive is one of the hardest thing for many people as they age.
- Change in Mood - Ask how your loved one is feeling? Are they keeping in touch with friends? Continuing to participate in clubs and hobbies? Getting out of the house? Remaining engaged is so important for happy, healthy aging. Depression, trouble getting around, or embarrassment about issues like incontinence or memory loss might cause someone to curtail their normal activities
First, take a deep breath. These changes are concerning but there are many steps you can take to ensure your aging loved one's health and well-being, even if you live far away. For example:
- Speak Honestly and Share Your Concerns with Your Parents. Be open and honest about your concerns. Knowing that the issues were noticed might give the push they need to see a doctor or make other changes. Include other friends and family in the conversation.
- Address Safety Issues. Point out any potential safety issues and make a plan to address the problems. For example, a reacher may help them to reach items on high shelves or a cane might help them stay steady on their feet. Many people aren't aware of the devices that are available to assist or that there are options that won't make them feel old. Ease Living is a great place to start!
- Contact the Doctor and Encourage Regular Medical Checkups. If you have concerns about things you've seen, encourage a visit to the doctor. There is often a simple fix like a medication adjustment or some physical therapy that can make a huge difference. Schedule the visit yourself and offer to accompany your loved one or to find someone else to attend the with them.
- Consider Home Care Services - It might be time to bring in help. There are home care agencies for everything you can think of out there today. From things like housework, laundry and grocery shopping to assist with bathing and dressing or just simply for companionship, there is a lot of help available. The person's physician may have a suggestion for an agency they have used in the past. A local senior center or agency on aging are other resources to find a home health agency that provides what you need.
It is hard to admit that help is needed. Remind your loved one that you care about them and that you want to do what’s best for their health, safety and well-being.