How to recognize if your aging loved one needs help

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For most people, the word "home" conjures up good feelings of safety, warmth, and love. Nearly ninety percent of seniors say that home is where they want to be.

One of the reasons for wanting to stay home is fear of the potential loss of independence and change of lifestyle. Seniors don't want to be dependent, so they deny their need for assistance and might make poor decisions that could negatively impact their health and safety.

Many families visit senior loved ones during the holidays. It is important on these visits to look for signs that indicate the senior might need assistance.

If warning signs are ignored, it might very well lead to the kind of dependence they are trying to avoid. Warning signs can be divided into three categories: Physical symptoms, mental or emotional changes, or loss of attention or environmental clues.

Physical or emotional changes might be:

  • Persistent fatigue and loss of energy
  • Loss of interest in their usual social activities or hobbies
  • A major change in mood or attitude
  • Difficulty getting up, standing, decreased balance or unsteady walking or falls
  • Loss of weight or diminished appetite

Loss of attention includes:

  • Changes in physical appearance and hygiene
  • Diminished driving skills, poor car maintenance
  • Difficulty concentrating or memory loss
  • Poor judgment

Environmental changes are:

  • Poor housekeeping and lack of home maintenance
  • Spoiled or expired food in refrigerator, freezer or drawers
  • Evidence of spilled food, soiled carpet, clutter
  • Stacks of mail or unpaid bills
  • Loose towel rods from pulling up to stand

All the above are clues that the senior might need assistance to remain at home. So, what do you do about your concerns?

  1. Share your concerns with your loved one.
  2. Encourage a medical checkup. Determine if your senior is taking medications as ordered and drinking lots of water to avoid dehydration.
  3. Do a safety check of the home to avoid falls. Is there evidence adaptations need to be made, especially in the kitchen and bathroom?

If the person is having difficulty with household tasks, personal grooming, preparing meals, housekeeping, or needs transportation, consider home care services to help him or her remain in the home where they really want to be.

Let your loved one know you are acting out of concern and trying to help maintain independence.

Community services to deliver meals might be available. Some grocery stores allow call-in orders and bring grocery purchases to the car for you.

Some builder stores might build a ramp, at no charge, if the materials are purchased there. In some areas neighbors help neighbors through volunteers who provide occasional transportation or "check in" calls.

The home safety check online at caregiverstress.com is also a great resource for families.

When you care about someone, you don't want to recognize that person's diminishing capacities. Be an advocate and protect your loved one from falls, hazards, medication errors - anything harmful.

After all, if this were your child, you would certainly make sure he or she was safe and healthy. Why not do the same for your senior loved one?

Rachel Carson is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care, serving The Lowcountry since 1997.

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