You may pride yourself on being a quick thinker and problem solver who comes up with a viable action plan and implements it to solve challenges immediately—if not sooner—yet when it involves the “problem” of aging loved ones, action may come slowly, and could be almost too late.
Maybe Mom’s repetition of stories doesn’t annoy you — so much as it is a cause for concern. Maybe as you go to throw out yet another charred frying pan it occurs to you that Dad really DID almost burn the house down this time. Maybe your friend who just a few years ago refused to sign on for Medicare because “it’s only for old people,” has ended up in the ER after a bad fall getting out of the shower.
Whatever the case may be, seeing the effects of aging on those you love can be distressing, if not terrifying. Those who were once your caretakers now need—care. For so many of us, that recognition dawns suddenly, but in hindsight we may realize it has been gradual, just something we didn’t want to see. This is one critical instance where denial doesn’t have to do only with self. It may take something life-threatening to break through that denial but it doesn’t have to be. Facing these unsettling realities as swiftly and decisively as possible ensures getting the needed support that allows for dignity and as little disruption as possible. Recognizing the signs that indicate your aging loved one needs care is the first step.
At least 17.7 million individuals in the U.S. are helping to take care of an older adult with health needs, according to the 2016 report from Families Caring for an Aging America. As we age, the odds of declining physical or cognitive health that affects our ability to function independently steadily increase. This usually starts between ages 65-70. Frequent displays of the following behaviors can be indicative of the need for a lifestyle transition. Here are a few of the most obvious signs a loved one’s living condition needs to be revisited.
Missing items, appointments, or important dates
Having a “senior moment” is a normal part of life, but remembering important dates, favorite memories, or simple words can be indicative of a larger issue. If you notice your loved one forgetting appointments, follow ups, or continues to lose their train of thought, it may be time for a cognitive function test. If you are unable to distinguish the difference between what is normal and potentially problematic memory loss, a senior health consultant like the team at Helping Hands Senior Foundation can provide answers and guidance for some of your important questions.
If there are more frequent accidents and injuries at home, you may want to begin the process of evaluating alternative living environments or the idea of caretaking. Falls and injuries may signal that the person is becoming unsafe at home, or, at least, that the home is not well-suited for being fully autonomous.
Lack of hygiene
Consistent inattention to teeth, hair, bathing indicates it’s time to discuss options for help with grooming. This can signal both a cognitive decline or physical inability to complete daily tasks.
If it is an accessibility issue, relocating to a space that is more accommodating towards individuals with limited activity would be a good idea. Once you have identified that your loved one is in need of care, the next step is to lay out an action plan. An action plan can mean contacting a trusted provider for advice, or beginning to merge the life of your loved ones into your own. It may also entail that you downsize, upsize, refinance, or relocate.
If you choose to become the main caretaker of your aging loved one, it is important to analyze your capacity to assist. An audit of your lifestyle, free time, finances, and emotional bandwidth is a great place to start in this evaluation. While spending the aging in place with a loved one can be an incredible experience, there are considerations to take before you commit. This decision, while rewarding, requires compromises that you must be aware of.
In our last blog of this series we will discuss ways to uphold the responsibilities of being a primary caregiver while preserving your old ways of life.
The very best way to prepare for this change may be to work closely with professionals trained to assist aging adults, such as geriatricians, geriatric care managers, and senior care consultants such as the Helping Hands team. Give us a call today, and have your senior care sorted by the new year.