For many people, the holidays are a time to finally be together in person, post pandemic. Travel is up and for those who live at a distance from aging loved ones, it may be the first opportunity in awhile to see your elders face to face. It can be very revealing.
Assisted living facilities and home care providers report an annual spike in calls after the holidays. Why? Families see their aging parents are in need of help that the parents did not ask for. Concerned adult children want to find out what help is available and what it costs. It is a time to reckon with the changes aging brings.
If you find yourself in the situation described here, or if you are not even sure what to look for, consider these common warning signs that your aging parent needs assistance.
- Memory loss. If Dad is repeating the same story over and over or asking the same questions you just answered, Dad has memory loss. It can portend development of dementia. Memory loss that interferes with daily life is a definite red flag, and Dad needs to be medically evaluated for brain changes that may cause loss of independence.
- Confusion. If you are explaining something simple to your aging loved one, and you get a blank look, or confusion, or you see frustration when your loved one tries to do a basic task and can’t, that’s another red flag. Confusion and memory loss often go together. This makes your loved one vulnerable to harm and it must be taken seriously. It may be another warning sign of dementia possibly developing.
- Poor hygiene. If your aging loved one was normally fastidious and you see that she now looks unkempt or has not bathed or groomed herself, something is changing. She may need help with bathing or dressing. Loss of the ability to attend to these tasks of daily living is another warning sign that she needs help at home.
- Stacks of bills, unopened mail or collection notices in their home. As memory loss and confusion develop, elders can forget to pay their bills or attend to the business of their lives. This is clearly dangerous, as insurances can get cancelled, utilities can be cut off or mortgage payments stop. It’s not the elder’s fault of course, but family need to pay attention to what is happening with the paperwork so that serious financial consequences do not happen.
- Unusual behavior changes. Sometimes a formerly calm elder begins to be highly irritable or aggressive. Temper outbursts, odd crying spells or shouting that was never there before can emerge. These, too, are signs that brain changes may be happening. It is important for the safety of your elder that you get a medical evaluation for her. A volatile aging parent who was not that way before, can become a danger to herself or someone else.
Everyone wants holiday visits to be enjoyable for those present. That is what we aspire to. But sometimes, while you are together as a family, you notice things in your aging parents you were not aware of before. This is not to suggest bringing up your concerns over the dinner table. Rather, note what you see as changes, and set aside a time to talk about it with your aging parents as soon as possible after the visit. Family may be all your loved ones have to keep them safe. Generally, they are not going to be the ones who ask you for help. It may be you who must take that initiative.