When visiting older friends or relatives we tend to see them as we always have – the independent, experienced and wise person who has advised us on so many occasions – but as those we care about get older it is important to tune in to warning signs that they may be becoming less able to manage alone. It might be our turn to help, or to take steps to ensure that those we value get access to the support they need.
Signs Of Confusion
Early signs of dementia can be difficult to spot because they set in so slowly, but indicators of cognitive decline to watch out for are things like persistent memory lapses and having difficulty problem solving or in grasping basic concepts. Your loved one might start getting lost when out of the home, allowing groceries to spoil or struggling to recall the names of familiar people or objects. Unopened mail or unpaid bills can also point to mental or physical problems. Lastly increasing mood swings or changes in personality can warn you that something may not be right.
Is everything as you would normally expect it to be? Physical problems may arise due to arthritis, impaired hearing or loss of vision. A cue that your loved one is not managing could include failure to keep on top of household and garden chores; for example you may notice bad odours in the house or dirty dishes mounting up. Bruises might indicate frequent falling and stains on the floor may indicate falls or spills. Is your loved one managing to prepare nutritious food and maintain a healthy weight? Burn injuries, or burnt cooking pans can warn you that they are struggling to prepare food for themselves. Dents and scratches on the car might suggest eyesight troubles, which may also be the root cause of unopened mail…
Signs that a person is not taking care of themselves as usual may arise due to mental or physical limitation, or may be a warning sign of depression. Look for dishevelled appearance, staying in pyjamas in the day or failing to undress at night and not managing to keep up with personal grooming. It might be called for to be a bit nosy and take a peek to make sure sleeping quarters and private bathrooms are in reasonable condition. Investigate whether your loved one is collecting any prescriptions and taking their medication on schedule.
It is a sad reality that many scams target the elderly because they can be more trusting, easily confused and more susceptible to misguidance, especially if they are lonely. Financial exploitation can escalate quickly so be alert for suspicious looking letters offering prizes or asking for help, strange phone calls or emails, unusual payments, missing money or valuables and keep an eye out for new people on the scene that might not have the best of intentions.
A Checklist To Have In Mind
Our loved ones are used to being independent and might worry about becoming a burden. Pride can cause a person to hide that they are starting to struggle and for this reason, while we don’t want to encroach on the privacy of those we respect, we can remain alert to these indicators:
- Is your loved one mentally clear and sharp?
- Do strength and balance seem normal?
- Are there any signs of bruises or injury?
- Is there any sudden weight loss or gain, or other changes in appearance?
- Is personal hygiene as it should be?
- Are clothes and bedding clean?
- Is the house in order?
- Are there any unpleasant odours in the home?
- Are there unopened bills or letters?
- Does the kitchen indicate normal use?
- Are there signs of damage to the car?
- Any behavioural changes or mood swings?
- Are there new people around that make you feel uncomfortable?
- Is there any indication of financial problems?
- Is anything missing or broken?
- Do they seem stressed, tired, or agitated?
When Support Is Called For
Recognising that we need help is never an easy thing as strong emotions like pride, shame and embarrassment can raise their heads leading to denial and avoidance. If you suspect your loved one may need additional support it is crucial to approach the subject gently. It can be a tough conversation but you will need to work together to establish how to move forwards. While you are visiting, make a note of the issues you resolve as a starting guide for responsibilities a carer might take on if coming in to help.
Explore all support options nearby so you are ready for anything, whether you intend to provide care yourself, enlist the help of other family members and friends, or engage local care services. Make contact with your loved one’s family doctor and discuss assistance in financial or organisational matters. The better informed you are, the more equipped you will be as your loved one’s health evolves and their needs become greater. The sooner age related issues are addressed and the more prepared we are, the more easily we can dispel any taboo and unite to preserve the highest quality of life possible, for those that mean the most to us.