Aging is a wonderful and unique path each of us follows. There is no perfect scenario for any one of us; in fact, there are times when things seem off track. Off track means we can get back on track — different does not mean disaster. We can help our loved ones continue on their path of positive aging if we know what to look for.
Here are a few signs that things are changing for Mom or Dad:
Was an early riser and now still in a robe at 2 p.m.
Has piles of unopened mail or can’t find the mail
Has not taken his/her medication or can’t remember when he/she last took medication
Outdated food in the refrigerator and too little to eat in the pantry
The cat’s litter box has not been cleaned or the dog not fed
He/she can’t seem to find the keys that are plainly on the shelf
The car is parked on the curb or not fully in the driveway
He/she is wearing the same clothes as the last time you stopped by
He/she doesn’t seem to think anything is amiss
When we see any of the signs above, or other “odd” behaviors, it’s a hint that you should take a closer look at the bigger picture.
Risk of Dehydration
Missing one meal may not be a problem, but ongoing poor eating and drinking habits can cause dehydration and increased confusion. The lack of fresh food makes mealtime unappealing and it may even be avoided. If a person is not drinking enough water or other beneficial liquids, medication regimens can be disrupted — starting a new cycle of medical issues. Dehydration can cause a urinary tract infection (UTI) with subsequent delirium that can be confused for dementia, which sends family and doctors down the wrong road of investigation.
Possible Solutions: Keep small bottles of water around the house and in the refrigerator. Call and ask Mom and Dad if they have had something to eat or drink. Make a reminder sign(s) to drink water and eat a snack or meal. Make a checklist for them to mark each time they eat or drink. Hire a caregiver to come in several times a week to assist with meal preparation and replenish the water bottles. The caregiver can keep you updated.
Increasing Memory Loss
People may begin to feel insecure when going out with friends or family because they don’t know what to do or say once in that setting. They might ask the same question over and over again despite having it answered repeatedly, or they may make poor decisions when dealing with calls or someone coming to the door. Maybe they are missing medication schedules or mixing medications. Poor personal hygiene and not changing clothes may be an issue. Missed appointments can result from losing the ability to distinguish dates from one another. Memory loss can also increase generalized fear in and out of the house. It would be frightening for any one of us to wake up and not know where we are or what we’re supposed to do next. All these are signs of memory loss and probably are signs of a medical issue on the horizon.
Possible Solutions: Put up an oversized calendar, add upcoming events, check off the ones already gone by, and show Mom or Dad each time you do so. Make a No Solicitations notice for the front door. Have the passcode for the phone so you can check phone messages. Hiring a caregiver to help out with meal preparation, light housekeeping, laundry, and medication reminders can also give you more peace of mind.
Loss of Vision, Ambulation and Dexterity
It is frustrating if we can’t see well enough to distinguish medications, or the numbers on a dial. We know that deteriorating ambulation due to disease or lack of use can not only cause falls, but cause increasing fear of another fall. Making a meal is harder to do when it comes to remembering the steps and getting all of the ingredients ready. What used to be simple tasks, like doing laundry, making a sandwich and carrying the plate to the table, opening cans or jars, or even using a phone, can become more challenging with arthritic hands.
Possible Solutions: Use large-print labels whenever possible. Purchase large-print pillboxes. Streamline mealtime by placing the right amount of each food for meals in a container that is easy to open. Use only the lower shelves so that items are easy to see and reach. Ensure that jars and cans are small enough to be handled by aging hands — nothing too large that could end up on the floor or worse, on someone’s toes. If possible, have a caregiver prepare a few meals in advance and put them in the refrigerator, change the bedding, and do the laundry.
It becomes difficult to socialize and meet with friends and family.One might see a slackeningof social skills and acceptable behaviors. Some might feign fatigue to avoid dealing with family or friends.
Have friends and family go to Mom or Dad’s house to visit. Keep outings simple — one store or event at a time. A caregiver can help set a routine to help keep track of dates and take your Mom or Dad to the doctor, lunch, shopping, and more.
Every family is beautifully unique, and, with a little help, we can find the right answer to promote positive aging and make every day count.
By Paula Alarid
A business development specialist at NurtureCare, Paula Alarid has worked in home care since 1996. She has also worked as director of admissions at Kindley Assisted Living at Asbury Methodist Village for four years.