More than likely if you are reading this, you are concerned about a family member. If you are concerned about a loved one’s well-being, take the time to evaluate how they’re doing in terms of health, safety and quality of life. Any of these five red flags may indicate that your loved one needs more support.
What to Look for?
1. Fall hazards. Falling is a big safety risk for elderly loved ones, especially if they live alone. Take a look around their home to look for hazards that make falling more likely. Do you notice things like unsafe stairs (especially without railings or poor lighting), throw rugs, clutter that will cause someone to trip? Is their laundry room or home entry force them to carry loads up and down stairs? Does the furniture layout or bathroom create an obstacle course?
Whereas surroundings can greatly impact the risk of falling, so can physical conditions. Vision changes are we age and our body control decreases. If your loved one has had one fall, he is more likely to have another. It’s time to evaluate all fall hazards, internal and external.
A certified aging in place specialist (CAPS), an aging life care specialist, or a physical or occupational therapist can help evaluate your loved one’s needs, abilities and the home environment. An expert can also make recommendations for home modifications or exercises for balance and strength. Contact Upstate Home Care Solutions in the Upstate of SC to find out next steps.
Consider ramps, handrails on both sides of stairs, grab bars in the bathroom or a walk-in shower. Rearrange and/or remove furniture, as needed. Declutter and make sure that items necessary to daily living are within easy reach. Check with your loved one’s optometrist or ophthalmologist, doctors and pharmacist about glasses or cataracts, medication adjustments, or mobility aids such as a walker or wheelchair.
2. Unfinished business. If you see stacks of unopened mail and unpaid bills, or key financial, home or legal documents that haven’t been dealt with, your loved one may be cognitively, physically or emotionally unable to handle them. Ask your loved one if they need help sorting through these items.
What to do: A solution may be as simple as help sorting the mail and prioritizing. You may also need to help your loved one simplify her affairs or engage a financial manager. The problem could go deeper and need to be handled with more delicacy and effort.
Offer to help with the more complicated matters while he continues handling day-to-day household and personal finances. Get a professional involved when necessary – know when to ask for help. Gradual changes are often better than taking over everything at once.
Be sure your loved one has her advanced directives and other legal documents in place so you are able to help manage her affairs in an emergency.
3. Car accidents and tickets. If you notice multiple scratches, scraps, parking tickets or accidents, it is time to start talking about whether driving is a safe option. This can be a very difficult conversation and decision because it can represent the loss of independence but it is necessary for the safety or your loved one and others.
What to do: Go for a ride! This is the best way to determine what could be causing the incidents. Is there a health issue causing problems such as vision, hearing or cognitive changes? It’s a good idea to get a thorough medical evaluation and recommendations from the doctor. There may be an easy fix, such as new glasses or a car that fits him better. Or it may be time to take away the keys.
Suggest that he refresh his driving skills by taking a driver safety course (which may also entitle him to a discount on insurance). If it is time to hang up the keys, be sure to offer other viable transportation options.
4. Isolation. Does your loved one seem disconnected from friends, family and community? If her support system seems to be deteriorating, her physical and mental well-being may also be on decline.
What to do: Take a look at your loved one’s calendar and see who she sees regularly. Try to find out if he is lonely by either asking directly or paying close attention. Help find activities she would enjoy, such as a senior or community center, a program where she can volunteer, faith-based programs, arts and music events, and help make arrangements for ongoing participation and transportation. Often your local home care agency can help with transportation for consistent attendance.
Also, keep in regular contact yourself and encourage other friends and family to so so. Phone calls, letters, video chatting and social media are all ways that you can help your loved one maintain existing relationships and even build new ones.
5. Changes in appearance. Pay attention to your loved one’s appearance. Has he lost or gained weight lately? Is he wearing the same clothes day after day and not washing them or himself? Does she seem sad, anxious and distressed? If you pay close attention you can usually notice that something is just not right and maybe they have stopped caring.
What to do: Suggest a thorough medical and psychological evaluation to determine what is normal for him — there may be multiple causes for these changes. Depression or anxiety may need treatment. Or you may find that changes in vision, sense of smell or mobility are impeding his ability to care for himself.
Review his medication list with a pharmacist and look for negative interactions or reactions, and determine if he is consistently taking medications as directed. Set up a pill organizer for him.
Is he drinking excessive amounts of alcohol? If so, consult with a treatment counselor who specializes in older adults.
Find out how he is making or receiving meals and whether he is adhering to a special diet. If appropriate, arrange for home-delivered meals, housekeeping, medication management and laundry assistance. Many of these activities can be managed by a local home care agency so you can rest assured your loved one is being taken care of.
Approach conversations about these and other issues with love, concern and a supportive attitude. Be clear that you are not trying to take over your loved one’s life or make decisions for her. Your goal is to help her be as independent as possible for as long as possible.