August 4, 2023
The recent holidays brought many families together for extended periods of time. And while the sparkle of the season has faded on the crest of a new year, some adult children may be left with the nagging feeling that something was “different” about their aging parent.
Did Mom have unexplained scrapes and bruises? Did Dad seem confused?
Physical and cognitive decline is a natural part of the aging process. Chronic health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes are common among the elderly. Mobility, balance and strength diminish, rendering physical exertion and activities of daily living increasingly difficult. Canes, walkers, chair/stair lifts, and shower bars become part of the territory.
The brain is an organ in the body like any other, susceptible to deterioration as we age. As such, memory falters.
When should I take notice?
But when an older loved one begins to display a marked departure from what is normal for them, it’s time to take notice and take action. However, it’s not always easy knowing when to step in, and enlisting help for an aging parent – or sometimes even discussing it – can be emotionally charged for all parties.
While everyone’s baseline is different, certain signs indicate a potentially serious situation that requires help beyond what seniors can provide for themselves. Here are some things to watch for:
Physical Red Flags
- Bumps and bruises. Frequent bruises, marks or scrapes are telltale signs of falls, driving mishaps, or bumping into furniture or other objects.
- Dramatic weight loss. It’s normal for people in advanced age to lose body mass, but considerable weight loss could indicate new disease, depression, anxiety, or lack of ability to prepare regular, nutritious meals.
- Dehydration. Older people often do not drink enough water and other replenishing fluids, resulting in the loss of vital nutrients and electrolytes. Chronic urinary tract infections, dizziness, confusion, and even hallucinations are some of the symptoms of dehydration in the elderly.
- Wandering. Some seniors with cognitive decline are prone to wandering outside the home, placing them in immediate danger of vehicular harm, exposure to weather, ill intentions from others, becoming permanently lost, and myriad other threats.
- Temperature insensitivity. If you notice burns or blisters on your loved one, it may be the result of insensitivity to temperature, another issue related to dementia. Scalding water, hot ovens, stove burners, and lightbulbs pose serious injury to those who can no longer properly perceive temperature.
- Unsafe ingestion. Has your loved one become less able to manage their medications, skipping doses, taking too much, or at the wrong times? Medication regimens can be confusing or unwieldy for those with memory issues or hindered fine motor skills. What’s more, those with dementia are at increased risk of ingesting toxic substances, such as cleaning liquids and tablets, fake fruit, poisonous plants, and spoiled food.
- Isolation. Some degree of loneliness is to be expected as seniors’ friends begin to pass away and the ability to get out and about decreases. But take note if your senior becomes unusually withdrawn, cancels social engagements, or is no longer interested in connecting with family and friends. Isolation is devastating to both mental and physical health, especially for seniors.
- Inappropriate comments. It’s a common trope that old people have no filter. However, if your senior is making uncharacteristically rude or improper remarks to friends, family or strangers, don’t pass it off as “typical old age” talking. Radical changes in inhibition can signal a serious cognitive or even physical problem.
- Changes in temperament. Also cause for concern are sudden changes in your loved one’s disposition. If your normally even-keeled mother becomes atypically irritable or volatile in the absence of extenuating circumstances, don’t assume she’s just having a bad day.
Financial Faux Pas
- Money mishaps. Does your senior seem to be having difficulty managing finances, paying bills on time, balancing checkbooks? Are they receiving frequent late payment notices, bouncing checks or getting calls from bill collectors? These are indications they may be struggling with cognitive decline or physical disability.
- Susceptibility to scams. The elderly are prime targets for phone, Internet and mail scams, and even the shrewdest among them can be taken in. But take heed if your typically worldly-wise senior is frequently falling for such cons, spending (or sending) excessive amounts of money. This, too, can indicate cognitive or emotional distress and can devastate their financial well-being.
Hygiene and Housekeeping
- Odors and lack of personal grooming. Urine and other bodily odors, disheveled hair, clothing, and infrequent bathing are signs your older loved one may be cognitively, physically and/or emotionally unable to tend to their hygiene.
- Dirty home. Likewise, a characteristically tidy home with piles of laundry, unwashed dishes, spoiled food, dirty surfaces, and messes everywhere is a red flag that something is amiss.
- Hoarding. Studies show a link between hoarding and Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. If stockpiling items is not normal for your elderly loved one, especially if they resist getting rid of garbage, papers and other useless objects, take warn. Hoarding can also be a sign of debilitating isolation, as “things” become replacements for interactions with people. Hoarding can also pose a serious tripping hazard.
Dings and Dents
- For many seniors, driving a car means freedom to go where they want, when they want. But when dings, dents, scrapes and other evidence of damage appears, it’s a sign they’re not driving as carefully as they once did. This is not something that can be overlooked for any amount of time, as auto accidents can be deadly to your loved ones and anyone in their path.
If you notice any of these signs in your senior loved one, it’s time to begin the conversation about seeking help. Include their doctor or healthcare provider in discussions as well as family members, friends, neighbors, or others who regularly spend time with them. This is particularly helpful if you are not able to be with them often.
For many seniors and their families, a community like Barclay Friends is a good choice, offering safety, security and a continuum of care, along with abundant amenities, activities and social opportunities.
We are here to help you explore your options and make informed decisions that are right for you.
Follow the signs to a better way of living.
Learn more about Barclay Friends’ continuum of care.