By Sylvana Rinehart, Certified Senior Advisor at Concierge Care Advisors
The holidays will likely find us visiting or staying with our senior parents and friends. It is important to bear in mind that changes can take place quickly, so we need to be alert to any that may be a signal that action might be required. We need to put on our Sherlock Holmes hat and look for signs that are not part of the normal aging process, and that we shouldn’t readily dismiss. Think of the billboards in airports or train stations that remind us to act: “If you see something, say something!” In this case, see something, note something and do something. Below are some of the more common signs we might encounter. It is not an exhaustive list, but you will get the gist of what to look for and some possible solutions.
Unopened mail piling up. When questioned as to why it is not being handled the response might be “I’ll get to it tomorrow – I didn’t have time today because I had so much to do. I have all these other more important things to put away or sort and I’ll get to the mail later.” This could be a sign that bill paying, something that was routine, is now getting too complex. Most seniors worry about finances, so an initial action on your part could be helping them with their checking account and later consider getting your name on the bank account. This will allow you to slowly take over and remove an additional burden while you keep an eye out for unreasonable expenses.
What used to be a tidy house or living room, is now full of newspapers stacked up, Kleenex tissues piled up by the recliner, dead flowers, or plants you gave them last month. Since your last visit, nothing was put away, and there is an unusual odor in the house. These are red flags and become a safety hazard. It shows that life is becoming overwhelming. It does not mean that they have to move into assisted living or a retirement home right away, but it does mean you or someone you designate needs to be vigilant. It might be time to get someone to come in several times a week to help with cleaning and putting things away. That person will also serve as a companion and can report back to you. They can tell you if your loved one is becoming more reclusive or withdrawn which will then require additional professional help.
The fridge is a very good mirror of what is going on cognitively with our seniors. Moldy food, partially consumed TV dinners, accumulation of cookies, cheeses, rotten fruit, opened milk cartons, moldy cat or dog food in the refrigerator. Purchasing food, or hoarding food, which is never consumed and with past due dates is a common trait. On a personal note, even fully aware of that behavior,I confess that I fell into that trap despite working with seniors for over two decades and should have known better than to trust my dear friend. I would call her several times a week and ask if she had eaten properly. She would always say yes and tell me something she knew would appease me. When we visited, I didn’t look in the fridge regularly until the day I opened it and saw moldy and wasted food, which she promised she had eaten. I had initially trusted what she told me but didn’t verify. I should have known better, understanding that with dementia, seniors often believe they have eaten and can’t remember that they skipped a meal.
New dents on the car. We all know that giving up driving is a very hard thing to do for our loved ones. Doctors are reluctant to tell their patients they shouldn’t drive anymore, and will leave it up to the DMV to revoke a senior’s license. It often falls to us to take the car away from our loved ones. Observing new dents on the car can help start the conversation for arranging someone to come and drive your loved one to the store or to medical appointments. As a young adult, I remember visiting a dear friend in her 90s in the Netherlands. She drove me around town to see the sights. She couldn’t see or hear well and was driving onto sidewalks and scraping parked cars while proudly telling me that she used to ride a motorcycle across Europe when she was my age! She should not have been allowed behind the wheel, and I should have had the courage to tell someone about her perilous driving.
The holidays are wonderful times to be around our loved ones, but they can be stressful times as well. We can sometimes be in a hurry to go from one family member to another, rush the kids to see one set of grandparents and then the other. It is important to stop and take note, talk to our loved ones and tell them what we are seeing without threatening to take away their dignity. We need to talk to them with confidence, kindness and assertiveness. It can start during the holidays but will need to be continued during the year until another phase sets in and other measures need to be taken. For now, observing and taking note of little things going on in the home and understanding that there are adjustments that can be made initially with the family’s intervention and, subsequently, recruiting the help of professionals will keep your loved ones from harm’s way and able to enjoy the support you are providing.
If you would like to schedule a no-obligation Home Safety Check we would be happy to come out to your loved one’s residence and perform a home safety check.
Happy holidays while enjoying your loved ones.