Today everyone is “over-scheduled”. This is especially true when you have young kids, older parents or both-which is the situation for almost 50% of caregivers to the elderly. Between work, kids, social/civic obligations etc. most people struggle to keep track of what day it is and where they need to be for their next appointment.
Because people are so busy, it’s not unusual to miss the signs that Mom or Dad might be getting to a stage when they need a little extra help. Below are some tips to recognize when it might be time to get or provide them a little extra assistance.
1) Look for signs around the house. Pay attention to the living areas. If the house is normally immaculate look for signs that regular cleaning may not be occurring. This could mean that cleaning is becoming too difficult. Look for stacks of, or unopened mail. This might indicate that someone is having difficulty seeing or is depressed. Also, look for things like laundry or dishes piling up. The weight of the clothes, difficulty loading the dishwasher, or standing for extended periods could be responsible. Check out the yard and exterior condition of the house. Look for signs that regular maintenance and upkeep is not occurring. These can all be signs that simple household tasks are becoming too difficult and some level of intervention is or soon will become necessary.
2) Eating regularly/properly. Schedule a meal with your parents. In their home is best (if it can be arranged without arousing suspicion). This provides an opportunity to see how and how much they eat. If necessary, offer to prepare or bring the meal with you. Have them help you with food preparation or setting the table. You’ll see how long they can stand and their ability to manage simple cooking or dining tasks. If they are having difficulty helping you, then you can reasonably assume they’ll have difficulty feeding themselves when alone. Remember, proper eating habits and nutrition is essential for everyone but especially for the elderly-who in addition to having normal nutritional needs, are also likely taking medications which require food.
3) Walking. The weather is getting nicer so it’s the perfect time to get your loved one out for a walk. Fresh air is always great but a walk will allow you to see how steady they are on their feet, how far they can walk, and whether being on their feet for an extended period of time causes residual issues.
4) Driving. If your loved one still drives inspect the car when you visit and periodically go for a ride with them. See how they handle the car; whether they drive the appropriate speed, get frazzled or frustrated easily, and whether they remember to use appropriate signals. If they are having difficulties- for their safety and others on the road-you may need to speak with them about alternative means of transportation (from experience, this will not be a simple or single conversation).
5) Phone. When you can’t visit someone the telephone may help you determine how they are doing. Call your loved ones regularly and speak for a few minutes. See if they: engage; speak at an appropriate speed and volume; follow the flow of conversation; and can have a “normal” phone call. If you get concerned, you can “test” them by asking the same questions in different conversations. See if you get the same responses and if they remember that you keep asking the same questions.
6) Attitude and Disposition. When talking to, or spending time with your loved one pay special attention to their disposition and how they act or react to various stimuli. For example, if your favorite aunt-who has always had an upbeat personality is now quiet and withdrawn this may be an indication that something is wrong. Admittedly, we all have bad days. Don’t put too much emphasis on any one statement or interaction, but be mindful and observe whether a pattern has formed. If so, it could be any of several things (depression, frustration, loneliness, pharmacological, etc.). It’s important is to be conscious of the change and provide whatever support or assistance is necessary. This includes having her examined by an appropriate medical professional.
7) Ask them. Finally, we leave the simplest technique for last. Simply ask them if they need help. You might get lucky and they admit they’re having difficulties. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s usually followed by sincere appreciation that you took an interest in them and their well-being. FYI, even when they don’t say it, they ALWAYS appreciate you looking after them (and you feel great too). Good luck on your caregiving journeys.