Read the Signs: Does Your Aging Loved One Need Help?

The holidays are approaching. For many of us, that means more time with family, especially as the COVID picture is brighter and we’re feeling more comfortable face-to-face than we were a year ago. 

Holiday gatherings may bring more than joyous reunions, however. We may notice changes in our elderly loved ones that we didn’t see before or were previously less apparent. These changes may mean they need help beyond what they can provide for themselves.

Telltale Signs Your Senior Needs Help

Decreased mobility

One of the most common concerns and occurrences among the elderly is faltering mobility. If your loved one has trouble standing from a seated position, staggers or falls frequently, struggles to climb stairs, it may be time for assistance beyond the help of home implements such as walkers, chair/stair lifts, or bathroom grab bars. Another telltale sign of impaired mobility is frequent scrapes, bumps, and bruises.

Memory impairment

Some age-related memory loss is normal and expected. But if your senior seems confused when performing once familiar tasks, regularly misses important dates, gets significantly lost in conversations or getting to and from errands/appointments, this is cause for concern. A helpful rule of thumb is “don’t worry if they forget where their toothbrush is; worry if they forget what to do with it.”

Personal neglect

  • Poor hygiene. Lessening or ceasing of bathing, dressing, and grooming and/or unpleasant bodily odors suggest that they may no longer be physically or mentally able to tend to everyday personal cleanliness.
  • Poor housekeeping. Heaps of laundry, spoiled food, or dirty dishes piled high.…these are indicators that they may be overwhelmed by housekeeping and can no longer properly attend to it.
  • Missed or low-quality meals. Have you noticed dramatic weight loss or frailty in your aging loved one? Low-quality, “TV”-style dinners in the fridge? Lack of fresh fruits and vegetables? These are signs they may not have the strength, energy or mobility to shop for and prepare healthy, well-balanced meals. Additionally, they may be concerned they cannot afford higher quality foods. Poor nutrition is especially dangerous for seniors.

Questionable “mis’s”

  • Money mismanagement. Unpaid bills, late payment notices, collection calls, bounced checks, uncharacteristic purchases or expenditures
  • Social miscues. Atypical comments, inappropriate actions or responses, uncharacteristic lack of a “filter”
  • Easily misled. Susceptibility to senior scams, “too good to be true” offers, scare tactics, phone/email/online fraud
  • Driving mishaps. Dents, scrapes, paint smears on their car, “fender bender” incidents or more serious accidents. These are signs that your senior is engaging in unsafe driving for any number of reasons (vision/hearing impairment, memory issues, mobility problems). Take these clues very seriously, ultimately they represent a threat to them and everyone on the road.
  • Medication missteps. Forgotten, skipped or too many doses of regular medication. Proper intake of medication requires not only fine motor dexterity but the cognitive capacity to know which medicines should be taken on which days, at which times, and how often. Medication missteps can impose serious, if not deadly, consequences.

Social withdrawal

Adequate socialization can be difficult for seniors, as they and their friends become less mobile or pass away. If your elderly family member seems uncharacteristically depressed, distant, it could mean that they’re suffering the devastating effects of social isolation. Being disinterested or uncommunicative may also be signs.

Significant hearing or vision loss

Some amount of vision and hearing loss is common as we age, and most seniors can manage such deficiencies fairly well. But near blindness and/or deafness has obvious impact on an independent lifestyle, and outside assistance is all but unavoidable.

Chronic health issues

Is your loved one experiencing frequent instances of urinary tract or other infections, flu and pneumonia, as well as dizziness, dehydration, electrolyte deficiencies (often resulting in “seeing things” that aren’t there)? These are just a few of the common chronic occurrences besetting the elderly.

Talking to Your Senior About Getting Help

While your older parent or relative may be perfectly aware of their decline, they may be less ready to accept the fact that they are declining and even less ready to accept help. Let’s explore ways to have constructive conversations about a topic that is likely to be laden with emotion:

Start talking now

The worst time to broach the subject of help is when there’s a crisis situation and something needs to be done immediately. Begin conversations before an emergency arises. Once you notice signs that your aging loved one may need help, gently share that you’d like to arrange a time to talk as soon as possible, without exercising undue pressure. 

Don’t do it all at once

Assuming you’re not in a crisis situation, take care not to overwhelm your senior with too much information at a time. Respect their need to process this potentially difficult topic and break it up with time in between discussions. But be careful not to let too much time elapse. Agree on a good day and place to meet again and make sure it happens.

Have a concrete plan

Before you begin talking to your senior, decide what you wish to convey and what you hope to gain from the conversation. Determine key points to raise and how you think they will be received. Anticipate possible scenarios and be prepared with appropriate responses to each.

Enlist family members

If possible, bring other constructive family members (spouses included, if applicable) into these conversations. It is paramount that everyone is on the same page, presenting a united front. The worst thing that can happen is family members arguing in front of their elder. It may be helpful to designate a “leader” of discussions who can keep the process going and ensure that everyone is in alignment.

Empower your senior

The most important participant in these conversations is your loved one. Consider their perspective first and foremost and hear them out with patience and respect. Ask them questions about their concerns, preferences, expectations and incorporate their responses into your overall plan of action as much as possible.

Don’t sugarcoat

There is a reason your senior may not wish to discuss getting help – it’s a daunting proposition with potentially life-changing ramifications. Sugarcoating the matter will only serve to complicate or sabotage your efforts to get them help. Be honest and straightforward about changes, concerns and possibilities, while also stressing that there is hope and support not only from qualified professionals, but your family unit as well.

Be their # 1 ally

Assure your parent or relative that you are with them on this journey. Accompany them on visits with doctors or other senior care professionals. Research credible resources on their behalf (see “How to Find Good Help” below). Also, anticipate and procure documents or appointments they may need and help them schedule appropriate meetings and consultations. Above all, lead with sensitivity and compassion and assure them that you are advocating for their best interests.

How to Find Good Help

Your parent’s doctor, a friend in a similar situation, a clergyperson, or other trusted “word of mouth” resources are still invaluable in the search for quality elder care.  What’s more, the advent of the Internet has opened doors in this space like never before. A word to the wise, however: it is critical that you consult trusted websites only. In addition to the sites suggested below, here are some guidelines to help you discern reputable online resources:

  • Beware of upfront requests for online payment or financial information. In addition, steer clear of offers or promises that seem too good to be true. Such exaggeration can be indicative of a scam, and elder fraud is rampant. Similarly, avoid sites that seem pushy or require you to act immediately.
  • Look for a mission statement or “About Us” section that is rooted in history, longevity and genuine care for senior citizens.
  • Avoid sites with spelling/grammatical errors or poor-quality content.
  • Watch for credible testimonials from real seniors or their families, legitimate awards and business accreditations.
  • Follow any social media links and carefully read comments from stakeholders such as senior residents, their families and staff.
  • Read credible company reviews and check consumer trust organizations such as the Better Business Bureau

The following state and national organizations are great places to start. Their websites include supplementary resources and contact information as well.

Pennsylvania organizations:

National organizations:

Preston in open and accepting applications

Come see how Barclay Friends can fit your needs – and your life