Most changes in our lives and the lives of our aging loved ones are gradual. If we see each other often, we might not recognize that mom or dad are declining in abilities and having health issues. We have to be observant and pick up on small changes so we can make sure their needs are being met. The other reason to be diligent in observing their lives is so that we can let them know. Many elders just don't think their old enough to need some help. You need to be able to talk about the changes you see, so they will understand that things are changing – and not for the best.
Independence is fiercely protected by almost all elders. After all, we love all our freedoms and would hate to lose a single one. However, if those "freedoms" are making life hard, it might be time for a change. Here are some things to look for and consider as you or your loved one ages.
Signs of Decline in Seniors
1. Social connections and Support – "Who, What, When, & Why?"
Staying socially active is a strong indicator that a senior is doing well. Once an elder starts declining social activities, you can safely assume something is not quite right. Indeed, isolation is the main factor experts look at when evaluating their risk of dying! Visiting with friends, going to church, attending group events should be a part of most elders' lives. The people they engage with are usually the ones they can call on should they need transportation or help with other needs. Ask your mom, or dad, "Have you been getting out lately?" and "What friends have you been visiting with?" Ask them "when" they've done these things. If they haven't been getting out, ask them why?
If your loved one seems a bit more stressed than usual, it's time to investigate a little more. Are they having trouble sleeping? How does their mood seem to you? Do they seem to be depressed, or lonely? If the answer is "yes" to any of these, talk about it more. "You don't seem your happy self, mom?" or "Are you worried about something, dad?" Play close attention to what they say. It can help you assess if they're having cognitive problems, or if something else is going on.
3. Daily Activities – Health, Hygiene, Household Chores, & Nutrition
If you're able to visit your loved one, observe how their house looks. Is it messier than usual? Is the garbage taken out? Are the floors clean? Is the yard kept up? How do they look? Are they staying clean and keeping their hair groomed?
Make sure and look in their kitchen. Do they have enough food? Ask them what they had for dinner last night. Does it seem their still cooking for themselves and getting to the grocery store? These observations are something you can talk about with your loved one. "Mom, you don't seem to have much to eat in the house? When was the last time you went to the store?" It might be that they've become afraid to drive, or perhaps they have trouble finding their way to and from the store. These are all things to discuss and point out to your loved one. Keep the conversation as light as possible, but do let them know you are concerned.
4. Pain, Illnesses, Falls, and Injuries
Be observant about their physical appearance. Do you see bruises, or has your loved one told you about a recent fall? Are they complaining about pain? Are they catching flu bugs more often? These are all signs of declining health, and it should be addressed. If they seem to be sick more often, or have trouble walking, these are all signs of decline. I noticed my own mother was having trouble when she walked. She seemed to be dragging her foot just a bit. I asked her about it and she told me she was tripping a lot lately. She has an appointment with her doctor set up to see what is going on.
Listen to you parents when they speak to you. Listen carefully. Are they repeating themselves more often? Do they forget what you just said? While some forgetfulness is very normal, be aware if they're having more trouble than usual. Do they know what day it is? Are they calling you by the wrong name? Ask them normal questions like, "What did you have for breakfast? Or "What do you need from the store?" Geriatric experts use what's called a Mini-Mental State Assessment. It has the person draw a clock, repeat a short phrase, add two numbers together in their head, and remember a list of three things. These test are just preliminary and are only to better evaluate if someone needs further testing. For family members it's better to just be more aware of what they're saying and doing.
6. Talk, Talk, Talk
No one likes to be the messenger of bad news but somebody's got to do it. If your parents are declining and you know they need more help, or even need to move – tell them. Point out your observations. Let them know that every change is not bad. Most changes bring us new opportunities to grow, meet new people, and have a better life. It will more than likely take some time to convince them that they have problems, but keep at it. Make sure you tell them that you want them to make these decisions while they are able to. If you have siblings, get them on board with these talks. Your parents deserve the best that life has to offer. All of us can sometimes be our own worst enemies, so be compassionate and tell them just how much you love them.
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About The Author: Karen Everett Watson is a Gerontologist and has over 10 years experience as a Journalist. Karen has spent 4 years in the senior community interviewing retirement community residents and wrtites articles for SeniorCareHomes.com, a comprehensive Assisted Living online directory, trusted by seniors and families. SeniorCareHomes.com also provides free placement services to help Seniors and their families find assisted living based on the senior's care needs, family's budget and location.
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