During Our Holiday Visit, We Worried About Mom and Dad!
Organizations and individuals who work with older adults report that January is the month when they receive the most calls from family members who are concerned about an older relative’s well-being. Christmas, Hanukkah and other winter celebrations bring families together from around the country—including those who may not have seen their senior loved ones for a long time.
After the 2021 holidays, this effect might be much greater than in previous years. Family may not have seen older relatives for two whole years. A lot can change in a senior’s condition in that amount of time—and those interim Zoom calls might not have allowed for a clear picture of the situation.
If your family is unsure whether a senior loved one is safe living at home, here are some questions to ask:
Is the home physically safe for your loved one? If there are stairs, can your loved one safely negotiate them? Has your loved one experienced falls in the home? Do they remember to lock doors and secure windows?
Is the home clean and in good repair? Clutter, dirt, or loose boards on the front steps might mean that keeping up the house is getting to be too much for your loved one.
Is mail piling up, and are there unpaid bills? Your loved one may be having trouble managing their financial affairs. Sweepstakes and magazine subscription offers might indicate your loved one is vulnerable to fraud.
Can your loved one get around? If they are still driving, is that safe? If your loved one no longer drives, is there someone who provides regular transportation, or can your loved one ride the bus or access alternative transportation?
Can your loved one manage their health conditions? If your loved one is living with vision loss, hearing problems, arthritis, heart disease, memory problems or other health concerns, do they regularly keep doctor appointments, manage medications and follow the healthcare provider’s instructions?
Does your loved one’s routine include adequate physical activity? Do they spend most of the day on the couch? Lack of exercise leads to a decline in physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Can your loved one prepare nutritious meals, and is it safe for them to cook? Have they lost weight? Be alert for “red flags” such as cupboards full of prepackaged junk food and the stove left on.
Does your loved one spend enough time with others? Do they have opportunities for social connections, even these days? Social isolation can creep up on an older adult, increasing the risk of depression and health problems.
Can your loved one keep up with personal hygiene? Infrequent shaving, bathing and oral care, wearing soiled clothing in need of repair and trouble managing incontinence are signs that your loved one needs help.
Does your loved one seem “not like themself”? Do they seem forgetful or depressed? Are they drinking more alcohol than before?
Are family members confident that the home is a good living choice? Even if your loved one insists they are just fine at home, if family members are fretting and losing sleep at night, that suggests that those concerns should be addressed.
Are there signs of “caregiver burnout” in their spouse or adult children? If a family member is providing more and more care for your loved one, this could be more difficult as your loved one’s needs change—and even harm the caregiver’s career and health.
If the answers to these questions lead family to conclude that your loved one is no longer safe and healthy living at home, it’s time for a family meeting—with everyone involved, including, of course, your loved one. It might be time to bring in home care, or to look into adult day care or respite care for short periods to give caregivers a break.
For many older adults, moving to a senior living community is the ideal choice. Depending on the level of care your loved one needs, this could be independent senior living, assisted living, memory and dementia care or skilled nursing care. In this setting, your loved one can have access to activities, friendship, nutritious meals and care assistance as needed, in an environment that is designed for the needs of older residents.
If an assisted living or other senior living community seems like the best option, begin your research sooner rather than later. Remember that the goal is to keep your senior loved one safe while preserving their dignity and enabling them to maintain the highest level of independence possible. If this process doesn’t seem to be going well, enlist the help of a trusted friend, an aging life care professional (geriatric care manager) or a counselor to help settle disagreements and keep everyone on the same page.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your loved one’s health care provider. With your loved one’s permission, talk to the doctor about ways to keep your loved one safe and well cared for.