Are you concerned about the health of your aging parents? As your parents age, how can you know if they’re taking care of themselves when you’re not around? Ask yourself the following questions after your next visit home.
1. Are they taking good care of themselves?
Take stock of their appearance. Are they keeping up with daily hygiene routines like bathing and brushing their teeth? Are they wearing clean clothes? Changes in personal grooming habits can indicate problems.
Take stock of their home. Is the heat or air conditioning on? Are the lights working? Is the house as clean as you’d generally expect? Is the yard being kept up with? Any noticeable changes in the state of the home can offer clues. For example, neglected housework in the home of someone who is generally tidy could be a sign of depression or dementia. Scorched pots may mean someone is forgetting about food that’s cooking on the stove.
2. Are they safe in their home?
Look around the house for red flags. Are they having trouble getting up and down the stairs. Have they fallen recently? Can they read the small print on their prescription labels?
3. Are they able to get around?
Assess their mobility and how they are walking. Are they unable to walk as they used to? Is arthritis making it difficult for them to move around their home? Are they experiencing muscle weakness or joint pain which is affecting their ability to get around. Are they unsteady on their feet? Yes to any of those questions means they may be at risk of falling — a major cause of disability among seniors.
4. Are they experiencing memory loss?
Everyone forgets things, and modest memory loss issues are a normal part of aging. Some medications and other underlying conditions can contribute to memory loss.
But, there is a difference between the normal memory loss associated with aging and the type of memory loss that comes with dementia. Consider your aging parents. Are the memory loss issues you see in your aging parents generally harmless – misplacing their glasses or forgetting an appointment? Or are their memory problems more concerning, such as getting lost in familiar neighborhoods or being unable to follow simple directions? If you’re genuinely concerned, arrange a meeting with a doctor.
5. Are they driving safely?
Driving can become challenging for some seniors. Assess their driving abilities. Are you concerned for their safety on the road? Do they become confused while driving?
6. Have they lost weight?
An unexplained weight loss could be related to many factors, including:
Difficulty acquiring food: Can they get to the grocery store easily? Can they carry the groceries inside?
Difficulty cooking: Are they having trouble with the physical and mental demands of preparing food?
Loss of taste or smell: If food doesn’t smell good or taste like it used to, it’s easy to lose interest in eating.
Underlying conditions: Weight loss can sometimes indicate a serious underlying condition. Have they seen a doctor about this?
7. Are they in good spirits?
Are they in a good mood? Has their disposition changed? If their general mood or outlook is different, this could be a sign of depression or other concerns. Talk to them about their social life and activities. Are they connecting with friends like they used to? Have they maintained interest in hobbies and activities they enjoy? Are they involved in organizations, clubs or volunteering?
Weigh your answers to the above questions. Do you feel like you must take action? There are many steps you can take to ensure the health and well-being of your aging parents, even if you live far away. For example:
Address safety issues. Point out the safety problems you’ve identified and come up with a plan to address them. For example, install handrails and grab bars in the bathroom to prevent falls.
Talk to your parents honestly about your concerns. Knowing that you’re worried may give them the motivation needed to make changes and be more proactive about their health. You may want to include other family members and friends in the conversation.
Seek help. Consult local government services to see if there are any options for help available.
Contact their doctor. If your concerns are dismissed by your aging parents, consider speaking to their the doctor directly. Your insights on their life at home may help the doctor understand what to look for during upcoming appointments.
Consider home care services. If your aging parents are having trouble taking care of themselves and their home, you could hire people to help them. Having someone come in to clean the house and maintain the yard could be very helpful. Home caregivers could help your aging parents with daily activities like bathing, dressing and preparing meals.
Many seniors are unwilling to admit that they need help. Some may not even realize that they are struggling. Remind your aging parents that you care about them and you want to do what’s best for their health and well-being.