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Elder Care Experts

Signs’, your elderly parent needs help – Don’t ignore, lest expect trouble

As the age advances, your parents will begin to need more and more help. But how do you know when to step in? Here are few signs that your parents may need help right now, and as social gerontology practitioners, we vouch for immediate remedial action.

After being independent and self-sufficient for so long, it may be difficult for parents to admit their present disability and they naturally refuse to take help. Before the situation worsens, you may initiate a conversation with your parents why you are worried and that you are  willing and obligated to help, and then to form solutions together. Following is the list of signs.

1. Forgetfulness

Have your parents begun forgetting appointments or bills that need to be paid? Have they been getting lost more regularly? Maybe they’ve begun repeating themselves or putting common objects in illogical places. Perhaps they forget the dosage for their medicine, or don’t take it altogether.

Noticing that an ageing parent is becoming increasingly forgetful and absentminded can be frightening. Mild changes in memory and other thinking skills are common as we age. For example, brief lapses in memory or attention — such as misplacing car keys or forgetting someone’s name — are usually not cause for concern. On the other hand, getting lost in familiar places, regularly burning food due to forgetting to turn off the stove or being unable to recall recent conversations could be signs of a more significant problem. For some, these difficulties may indicate a condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or another age-related form of dementia. A professional can access any cognitive impairment and recommend a course of treatment.

2. Mobility

Mobility is closely tied to our sense of independence, but also our social connectedness, activity and security. A person’s wellbeing can be considerably compromised by a mobility restriction. Mobility issues become more of a concern with age, and in many cases, the older adult must face a period of adjusting from complete independence to sudden reliance on another for even minor tasks, such as brushing their teeth or basic grooming. A mobility impairment can range from limitations of stamina to total paralysis. Often, a lack of functional mobility can contribute to additional health issues. For example, limited functional mobility in an older person could prevent them from maintaining continence. An older person living with reduced mobility may find it difficult to carry out simple tasks and participate in activities without assistance.

Mobility restrictions can range from limitations of stamina to paralysis and has the potential to severely decrease the wellbeing of an individual through isolation, fear of falling, increased bed-rest and dependency on others for simple tasks. Limited mobility can be navigated through accessible home environments, support and exercise programs.

3. Nutrition

It’s normal for older adults to eat less than they did when they were in their 20s and 30s. After all, this is in counterbalance to the decrease in physical activity and resting metabolic rate that is part of aging. However, there’s a point at which a reduction in appetite becomes worrisome and when resulting weight loss can become life threatening.

Are your parents losing weight, becoming dehydrated, not cooking, forgetting to eat or eating unhealthy foods? They might be having trouble cooking, reading a recipe, holding utensils or operating a stove, or they may have difficulty with the senses of taste and smell. Whenever we go for a nutritional assessment first thing we do is checking the refrigerator for out of date food. Make sure your parents are drinking and not becoming dehydrated, especially during the heat of the summer. A nutritional assessment at least once in six months is essential. 

4. Lack of involvement

As we age, we tend to shed family and friends—which can hurt our mental and physical health. Social relationships, which are contingent on access to social networks, promote engagement in social activities and provide access to social support. These social factors have been shown to positively impact health outcomes. Is your mom social and active, visiting friends, participating in faith, civic or community activities? Or is she listless with low spirits and a lack of energy? You have to intervene and encourage your parents to socially integrate to the extent they can. Many a time you have to facilitate this. 

5. Change in hygiene

Is your parent’s hair uncombed and teeth not brushed? Is your father no longer able to visit the barber regularly? Is he wearing the soiled clothes?  Is your mother not trimming the nails? Lack of awareness about his personal appearance might be a sign of physical problems, depression or Alzheimer’s. Talk to your parents about what you noticed and ask them about it.

Personal hygiene often declines with age. Elderly loved ones may have difficulty standing in the shower, getting in and out of the bath, or maintaining enough balance to stand in front of the sink. Seniors may refuse help with personal hygiene, resulting in a constant struggle between the caregiver and elderly individual. In some instances, our loved ones may simply forget to wash and bathe. When these types of situations occur, it is important to provide support and offer assistance with essential hygiene tasks.

6. Change in personality

Of late, do you notice a change in your parents’ personalities, especially in the evening? Are they talking too loudly or too softly? Are they accusing people of doing or saying things, wanting to check on children or displaying other odd behaviours? It’s time for a psychological evaluation.

7. Sensory changes

Is your father complains that he is able to hear only a mumbling voice when someone speaks to him? How does it feel to have poor vision and no longer be able to read a newspaper or clearly see another person’s face? Why do some older people complain that food doesn’t taste as good as it did when they were younger?

The efficiency of the sensory organs—vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch—declines with age, but the age of onset and rate of decline differ markedly among people. Sensory changes can influence the way we see, hear, taste, smell, and respond to touch and pain. A significant sensory change can rob us of many simple pleasures and complicate the tasks of daily living. It may mean reduced mobility, increased dependence on others, inaccurate perception of the environment, reduced ability to communicate and socialise, or loss of self-esteem.

8. Unusual amount of clutter

Is there dirty laundry or unopened mail? Is the house unkempt, especially in the kitchen and bathroom? Does the garden left unattended or the lawn need mowing? Maybe maintaining the home is becoming too much for your parents to handle. It is time that you explain the appropriate upkeep and the need to declutter. 

Cluttered homes can be an accident waiting to happen. Removing the excess (unused) clutter and rearranging the remaining items so they’re easily accessible can help keep your mom from struggling to reach for an item or tripping, which could lead to broken bones or other injuries. If your parent has a physical disability, a neat home can help him or her move through it more easily.

9. Bruises and clots

Have you noticed unexplained bruises, bumps, scratches or clots? These may be signs your loved one is having difficulty taking care of themselves. Even if you’re pretty sure your loved one just tripped and stumbled, a good evaluation can uncover issues that made those trips and stumbles more likely. Underlying causes can vary so in both the case of unusual bruising or symptoms of a worrisome blood clot, the sooner treatment begins, the better the outcome tends to be.

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