The final few months of the year may bring warm, sentimental feelings as you gather around the dinner table for a Thanksgiving feast, drive past homes covered in festive lights, pick out the perfect Christmas tree, and travel near and far for holiday visits with family and friends. For some, these end-of-the-year holidays may mark the only annual visit with aging loved ones. And while years may seem to slip away in our youth, for older adults, a significant amount of change can occur in a year, especially if they are aging in place and on their own. As our loved ones’ age climbs higher and higher, it becomes increasingly important to take note of their mental, physical, emotional, and environmental situations – or, as Aging Life Care Managers describe, performing wellness checks. These checks can assess whether your aging loved ones may need more assistance. With that, here are seven warning signs to look out for when visiting your aging loved ones this holiday season:
As a relative or close friend, you most likely know your aging loved one’s baseline regarding personal care/hygiene. In other words, you know their habits best, such as their hairstyles, wardrobe choices, cleanliness concerns, etc. If you notice any deviation from this baseline, such as hair no longer being styled, clothes being re-worn for multiple days, or fewer showers, it may be time to address the situation. The important point is knowing their personal hygiene baseline and making current assessments with it in mind.
State of the House
\When observing the state of your aging loved one’s home, keep their baseline for cleanliness in mind. For example, if they are known to be a collector of certain items, you may be able to tell the difference between everyday habits versus a borderline hoarding situation. Noticing small changes within the home is essential for your aging loved one’s safety and well-being and may halt more drastic changes from occurring. Other red flags that may signal more assistance is needed around the home are rotten food in the fridge, a decline in general maintenance such as leaky faucets and light bulbs that have not been replaced, or neglect of pet care such as feeding, bathing, and accidents inside the home. Overall, if your aging loved one seems overwhelmed by the care and maintenance their residence requires, it may be time to consider additional support or relocation.
Fall Hazards Around the Home
Be sure to watch for fall hazards around your aging loved one’s home. These can range from large items, such as boxes, to small, more discreet items, such as pet food bowls or loose corners of area rugs. Stairs that lack railings and slippery bathroom mats that are not adequately secured to the floor may also increase the risk of them falling. Simple home modifications can solve some of these issues within the home, such as grab bars attached to reinforced walls in the bathroom, installing railings on both sides of the stairs, and placing non-slip mats under rugs (or removing them entirely if necessary). Finally, consider rearranging furniture in the house for easier access to high-traffic rooms such as the kitchen or living room. There are many ways to creatively optimize space without compromising things within the home that are attached to memories. Ensuring our loved ones are the safest they can be in their homes will help reduce fall risk and resulting bank-breaking medical bills and help them successfully age in place.
A Buildup of Mail
We all fall behind with opening our mail, especially in an age of going paperless. Older adults, however, may be less likely to have recurring bill payments set up on their devices. If you notice a buildup of mail, intervene now to avoid a potential mountain of mail later. Unpaid bills can be serious if not addressed promptly. Additionally, sorting through mail and differentiating genuine from scam mail has become challenging – for any age group. Unfortunately, older adults are targeted for scams because of generational differences in technological know-how and trusting others by giving them the benefit of the doubt. While visiting with your loved ones over the holidays, work your way through each letter together and educate them on how to spot scam mail. If you realize that additional help may be needed while you are not in town, suggest that they put all mail aside to be opened later, such as over the phone or in person with you.
If you notice a lack of organization for your loved one’s medications, with orange bottles strewn about the house and instructions not being followed, then extra assistance is most likely the solution. Mismanaged medications can pose serious health risks for anyone of any age; all medications, including over-the-counter and dietary supplements, should be handled and ingested with the utmost care. The proper timing, amount, and interactions of each medicine with each other should be identified, and an easy-to-follow system should be in place to help them have the best results.
Missed Medical Appointments
Another important aspect of your aging loved one’s life that should be checked is if they are keeping up with their medical appointments. Ensuring they are attending these appointments is important for their overall health and well-being. Additionally, it may give you some insight into the state of their memory – are they writing down their appointments on a calendar? If so, are they making these appointments or forgetting? The answers to these questions can provide clues to other aspects of their health.
Do you notice your aging loved one repeating the same phrases or stories, not remembering directions to frequented places, getting lost while driving or having difficulty planning and organizing? These may be early warning signs of memory loss and dementia. While every individual – young and old – has occasional mishaps, such as misplacing items such as a set of keys or walking into rooms to realize they forgot why they were there, it is important to note the frequency of these occurrences. Difficulty following a conversation, withdrawal from social activities/interaction, and personality/mood changes can signal that something more may be happening. Seek help when your loved one’s daily life is disrupted by their suspected memory loss. While age-associated memory impairment is a normal part of the aging experience, dementia is not, so education is critical. Knowing the warning signs will help you intervene at the right time and help your loved one on their journey to healthy aging.
Observing changes in your loved one’s appearance and home can be emotionally taxing and unnerving, especially when visiting during a special, sentimental time such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Remember that being observant is being considerate of their needs. You are showing love through your care and concern. As Aging Life Care Managers, we are here to help you and your aging loved ones navigate all the twists and turns that aging brings. Are you noticing one or more of the changes described above and feeling overwhelmed? Call us today at (760) 266-4700 to discuss options.