“Everything is fine,” said Cassandra’s mom.
But as Cassandra looked around the house, it became clear things might not be as good as her aging mother was letting on. Bills were piling up, food was molding in the refrigerator and there seemed to be a distinct ‘smell’ in the house.
Upon inspecting the fridge further, Cassandra discovered multiple jars of the same item in different states of decomposition.
That’s when she knew living alone had become challenging for her mother, and something needed to be done.
Much like anyone else, senior adults value their freedom greatly. Asking for help means they will lose part of this freedom, which is one reason they are reluctant to do it.
So if your loved one isn’t asking for help and refuses to answer your questions about their ability to continue living on their own, how do you decide if major changes truly need to take place?
Here are 6 telltale signs to help you decide if your aging loved one might really need some help:
1) Forgetting to Take Medication or Pay Bills
This can be downright dangerous. Missing necessary doses of medication or absentmindedly taking more than the prescribed dose can lead to a host of real health problems for your loved one.
How to Tell:
Unfortunately, if your loved one is having memory issues, just asking them if they’re taking their medication may not work, because they simply might not remember or genuinely think that they have been.
Check your loved one’s medicine bottles when you visit and note the prescribed doses and date of the last refill. In the next few days, visit again and see if the right amount of medication is missing or if it seems more than the correct amount is gone. If the bottle is just as full as before or if it looks much emptier than it should be, this could be a sign your loved one is forgetting their proper dosage.
Forgetting to pay bills can be a compounding liability that ultimately could fall on your shoulders.
Besides your loved one having to deal with stressful debt collectors clamoring for payment, the last thing you want is to have to pay for late fees and accumulating interest that could have been avoided.
How to Tell:
Check the mail lying around their house for overdue bills, and their phone for messages from creditors. If you have access to their bank statements or financial records, review those for monthly proof of bills being paid. You may even want to call up their utility companies and see if they have any outstanding balances.
2) Poor Hygiene
Poor hygiene is more serious than just being un-presentable for social situations; it means living in an atmosphere with germs, bacteria, harmful molds and other unhealthy elements. If your loved one has lost the ability to care for their hygiene it may actually make their living atmosphere unsafe.
How to Tell:
If your loved one is continually wearing the same outfit and developing a strong body odor, it’s a sign that they might need help. Other signs can include a strong smell of urine in the house, areas with dark mold in the kitchen or bathroom, and an overall increase in clutter (an especially dangerous sign if they are typically neat and clean).
3) Deficient Diet
As you may already know, the food we consume is the fuel by which our body operates. If your loved one isn’t getting the right fuel, their bodies will break down at an accelerated rate, possibly even leading to more forgetfulness and memory issues.
How to Tell:
If you see unexplained weight loss or a lack of balanced nutrients represented in the food items in their kitchen, it’s a sign that taking care of themselves properly might be getting more difficult.
4) Unexplained Bruising
Although elders tend to bruise easier, it could be a sign that they have fallen and haven’t told you about it. Aging can cause weakness or unpredictable loss of power in limbs, and serious injuries can occur if seniors have falling spells on hard surfaces or on any type of incline. It’s important that you are aware of whether your loved one needs mobility assistance of some kind.
How to Tell:
Keep a sharp eye out for this one. The next time you visit your loved one try to find a moment to check them for bruising. A good time to do this is when you’re helping them dress or change for bed. Arm and leg bruises will be easier to spot, but if they have fallen the bruises may be found on their hips or hindquarters, so try to check there as well.
5) Phone Calls at Odd Hours
When a loved one calls friends or family during weird times of the day or night, it can be a sign of memory loss or a clear call for help. Even if they don’t specify that they need help, it could be a subconscious cry for help, or an effort to ask for help without knowing how to clearly articulate it.
How to Tell:
Make it clear to your loved one that you will call them at a specific time each day or week or that there is a specific time that is best for you to receive calls. If it becomes clear that they are consistently calling outside of these times or don’t even remember that you set up those check-in times, this could be a sign that they really need more than just a phone call.
Also, note if their tone of voice is consistent with their personality, or if it seems more anxious or distressed than usual. This could indicate growing emotions that they don’t know how to articulate.
6) Lost of Interest in Hobbies
Loss of interest in hobbies they used to delight in can be a clear sign of depression. Isolation and depression can cause drastic changes in an individual and even affect memory and health.
How to Tell:
This is pretty simple. Take time to ask them about their hobbies or to visit the areas where they usually engage in these activities. Do they have a craft room they always work in? A workshop where they build things? A park where they like to feed the birds?
Offer to join them in their hobby and if they are consistently reluctant or resistant to engage in the activity, it could be a sign that they are slipping into depression and need a change of atmosphere, community or care.
How Do I Help?
If you do determine that your loved one needs help, deciding how to help them isn’t necessarily a black and white issue. Each individual is unique and therefore requires a unique solution. On top of that, you—as their family member or friend—have a unique life that now will be affected by the type of help you choose for your elderly parent.
It may not as simple as moving your loved one into a senior living home and you may have some of these common issues to work through:
Unsure of How to Help
Most people don’t think about senior homes until last minute. But by that time, it’s extra stressful because the problems have snowballed into an overwhelming situation to tackle. Thinking about costs, logistics, finding the right place, insurance options, and more, can quickly cause you to fall into analysis paralysis.
Insufficient Time to Research
Your own life is likely swamped: your significant other, kids (perhaps even grandkids), your job and a whole host of other responsibilities. And now you’ve been tasked with the not-so-simple duty of learning all the nuances of senior living.
Lack of Funds
Caregivers typically cost $19 per hour or more. Multiply that by a 24-hour period and that’s $456 a day. Over a 30-day period, that’s about $13,680. Assisted living typically averages $3,000 per month, depending on the state you live in.
Even then, many people can’t afford that kind of money. Often times the money issue can be a non-starter, but there are ways around this, such as veterans benefits. (Feel free to ask us for more information!)
Doubtful of New Living Situations
Who wants to move away from their own beloved home? Nobody. It makes perfect sense to be skeptical of the standard of living in any facility that is not the home you are comfortable and familiar with. But in today’s society where reviews can make or break a business, there is quality senior living to be found with a little research and a little help.
What to Do Next
With so many options stacking on top of your already busy life, the question is ‘what are the best next steps?’.
There are many options that will make a significant improvement in the lives of older adults; it’s simply a matter of figuring out what makes the most sense for your loved one based on their specific needs and personality. Remember, everyone is different so it’s beneficial to gain an understanding of the pros and cons of each option before rushing into a decision.
Here are a few next steps we recommend to help you assess your loved one’s unique situation:
Consult a Physician
Your loved one’s physician may know better than anyone what changes in your loved one may be temporary or insignificant, and which ones may truly indicate a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Once you’ve observed your loved one and noted any of the telltale signs, make an appointment to discuss these concerns with your elderly parent’s physician. Add their advice to the top of the list of all the factors that will play into your decision.
After all, your loved one’s health is paramount to the preferences of anyone involved in this situation.
Map Out Immediate vs Upcoming Needs
While you may have discerned some immediate changes that need to be made for your loved one’s well-being, there might be a whole category of changes that can come a little further down the road, or after you’ve taken more time to plan and research. Once you’ve attended to the list of changes that need to happen right away, take some time to assess issues that may arise as time goes on so that you can be prepared.
Wasted time, excess money, and hours of worry can be prevented by taking time to look down the road and prepare for your loved one’s aging process before the larger milestones arrive.
Research Senior Living
According to the Administration for Community Living, there were 44.7 million people over the age of 65 in the United States in 2013. This is a number projected to double to 98 million in 2060.
When it comes to senior living, there are many options including (but not limited to):
- Independent living communities
- Assisted living
- Nursing homes
- Alzheimer’s care
- Residential care homes
- Respite care
Unfamiliar with these options? Check out our Senior Living Glossary of Terms for more in-depth definitions.
In many cases, aging loved ones may only need a little extra help from loved ones in areas such as meal preparation, housekeeping, transportation and personal care. If no one in your family is trained or available to help with this, in-home caregivers are a great solution. Just make sure that you conduct a thorough interview and background check.
If budgets are tight or major changes aren’t urgent, changing locations may allow you easier access to care for your aging parents. Many people choose to move closer to their elderly loved ones or move their loved one into a spare room in their own home. This way the loved one can receive the extra attention or supervision they need, while also being closer to the family they love, which is usually their largest priority.
If any of theses six signs above have started to manifest, it may be time to start looking at care options. This doesn’t necessarily mean your loved one needs to move out or make drastic changes, but looking at all the options ahead of time can help you make the best decision for them.
Remember, this is a very emotional, delicate situation that needs to be approached with patience, understanding and care.
For an even broader perspective on what your loved one is going through and how to approach the subject with them, check out our Senior Living Tips : The Ultimate Guide.
Or feel free to talk to one of our CareSprout advisors for some one-on-one guidance, free of charge!