Six Questions To Help You Determine Whether Your Elderly Loved One Needs Help

When I began working in the home care industry more than eight years ago, I assumed that the holidays would be relatively quiet with respect to new clients. I could not have been more mistaken and was certainly surprised by the increase in new clients around the holidays. For many seniors, their adult children live at a great distance and they see them only a few times per year. Additionally, the extended family concept is much less prevalent. What was happening was that family members would visit their elderly loved ones and notice how much they had declined since their previous visit. It was that type of experience that would cause our phone to ring and I would frequently hear a distressed voice say “I need some help with my parents”.

While people normally slow down as they age, significant mental deterioration and patterns of self-neglect are not a part of “normal aging”.  Identifying some changes in an elderly loved one may require you to be a “super sleuth”, as senior loved ones will often try to hide their decline from their spouses and their children.  Below are some questions that will help you know what to look for. Depending on what you find, it may be time time to step in and open a dialogue with your elderly loved one about this sensitive issue.

  1. Has your loved one’s attentiveness to hygiene and/or personal care declined (infrequent bathing, denial of incontinence, unkempt appearance, and/or body or moth odor?
  2. Has your loved one’s interest in friendships, hobbies and outside activities dwindled? This could be a symptom of a more serious underlying physical or mental issue.
  3. Do you notice that a pattern of consistent forgetfulness has developed or other decline in cognitive functions (confusion, inability to find the right word, inability to remember the names of family, friends or ordinary objects)?
  4. Does your loved one exhibit little or no interesting in preparing or eating meals or seem to have a lack of adequate hydration? Many seniors fail to eat or drink enough to remain healthy but refuse to recognize this as a problem.
  5. Has a history of falls developed or intensified?
  6. Does your loved one simply seem as if he or she is not his/her “same old self” (perhaps their home was always immaculate and now disarray seems to be the norm)?

If based on your observation, you decide that immediate attention or assistance is needed, it is important to approach the conversation with your loved one with diplomacy and sensitivity. In future articles we will offer tips for “Having the Difficult Conversation”.