Holiday family gatherings are not just good for catching-up; they are an opportunity to assess your older loved one's status and needs. Certain clues can reveal a decline in abilities and an increase in care needs. Below are some red flags to look out for:
Physical Appearance and Household Cleanliness: Changes in physical appearance can be a red flag as to the health of a loved one. Weight loss, unopened medicine and poor hygiene are just a few of the things to watch out for. The cleanliness of the home environment is also important to note. For example, excessive clutter, expired food and piles of unopened mail can be a signal that your loved one needs assistance.
Mobility: Changes in mobility are common with aging adults, but some signs of lessened movement are more concerning than others. Are there signs of physical pain or evidence your loved one is unsteady on their feet? Do they hold on to furniture or other household objects while walking? Can they navigate stairs safely? Updates to your loved one's living environment may need to be made in order to keep them safe at home.
Mental Health: While it may be hard to gauge a person's emotional well-being over the phone, you can do so with face-to-face communication. Note if your loved one seems withdrawn, has lost interest in activities he or she usually enjoys or if there are any significant changes in sleep patterns. Sudden outbursts, uncharacteristic anger or lashing out is also a cause for concern. These behaviors could be indicators of depression, contraindicated medications, declining mental function, or physical ailments requiring a physician’s attention.
Dangers: When visiting with older loved ones, take note of environmental dangers. For example, are there tripping hazards, such as throw rugs, electrical cords, uneven pavement on sidewalks or driveways that could cause a fall? If the individual is still driving, inspect the car for evidence of any minor accidents or incidents.
What do I do now? Any of these changes mean that it is time to start the conversation about long-term care wishes and plans. Identify resources to help you start the conversation. Make sure your loved one has a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy and Living Will so that you have the legal authority to help as well as the ability to get information about finances and health care.