You are seeing your parent for Thanksgiving, maybe the first time you have gotten together in person in quite a while. While you may have been communicating with them via regular telephone conversations, your visit with your mom or dad is an opportunity to assess their well-being.
During COVID, mental and physical decline is accelerating due to isolation and loneliness. On the phone, your senior may be concealing or downplaying any new or worsening problems they may be having. This holiday season, your visit may be the first opportunity you get to see your aging loved ones in person, so it’s important to pay close attention to their physical and mental health and their living situation.
Here are the warning signs that your relative may need additional help at home or a move to an assisted living:
Signs of Age-Related Decline
1. Weight Loss
One of the most obvious signs of ill health is weight loss. Possible causes could include cancer, dementia or depression. Seniors may also experience lower energy levels or fatigue, which can make it challenging to shop for and prepare nutritious meals and then cleanup afterwards. An elder may consider cooking an unnecessary effort, especially if they live and eat alone. If you are at their house, look in the fridge. What kinds of food is there? Is it fresh? Is it healthy? Is the refrigerator in disarray, empty, or filled with empty calorie foods?
2. Decline in Mobility
How is your mom or dad moving? A reluctance to walk, changes in gait or obvious pain during movement can be a sign of joint, muscle or neurological problems. The fear of falling can cause seniors to withdraw and stop participating in daily activities both inside and outside the home. Minimized activity can actually cause elders to become frailer and even more susceptible to falls.
3. Changes in Behavior
Look for changes in your loved one’s moods and behavior. You can’t always gauge someone’s emotional state over the telephone, even if you speak daily. Look for signs of depression and anxiety, including withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in hobbies, and changes in basic home maintenance and personal hygiene. The latter can be an indicator of cognitive decline or other physical ailments like dehydration, which often happens to elders in the winter months and can be serious.
4. Chaotic Home Environment
Examine your parent’s home environment. Often a first sign of decline is excessive clutter and stacks of unopened mail while visiting. If you observe this, it indicates a problem. Take a walk through their home while you’re visiting to see if they are keeping the house to their usual standards. Are they having trouble doing laundry? Are there dirty or scorched pots and pans? Are they taking their medications? Check to see if any are expired. You know your loved one and can tell when something is off.
What to do When You See Signs of Decline
While you may want to keep things light during the holidays, address any red flags that you observe. Be sure to collect any necessary information while you are visiting so that you can have a talk later about your concern and possible next steps.
The local advisors at Assisted Living Locators can help you sort our next steps and strategies. You may want to suggest in-home care to start, taking over some of the routines like bill paying, getting in a housekeeper, or even assisted living. Remember, COVID related isolation for seniors is a serious concern. After eight months of being home-bound, be prepared for changes that may be worse than what you had imagined.