If you have aging loved ones, you might have noticed a gradual shift in who’s taking care of whom. There are signs, both obvious and subtle, that your loved ones are ready for assistance beyond what the family can provide. But what should you look for?
Here’s a list that may help:
- Home Cleanliness: Do you notice that things are piling up in a normally tidy environment? Can you see dust and dirt or notice a musty smell? If the home is messier or dirtier than usual, it could mean that the cleaning equipment is too heavy for them. It can also show a loss of interest or energy, or a ‘why bother with it?’ attitude.
- Personal Hygiene: When older adults stop bathing, it’s possible that they are afraid to get in and out of the shower. Or, they might not realize they need to bathe because their sense of smell and vision are diminished. Maybe their energy level is too low to take on the laundry. Or, they just might not notice when clothes are dirty or stained. Whether they’re afraid of a bathroom fall or believe that changing the sheets is too taxing, or unnecessary every week like it used to be, intervention will keep them safer and feeling better about themselves.
- Full (or empty) Cupboards: Check out the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. Is there healthy food available? Is there an abundance of food, including the supplies you brought with you last week? If so, your loved ones might be stockpiling food. Older people often don’t have an appetite or they don’t have the energy to cook, opting for an egg or peanut butter crackers rather than a balanced meal. This impacts nutrition, leaving them vulnerable to illness. Alternatively, if you see that the cupboards are empty, there might be a transportation problem, or a financial one. Are they paying for medicine and scrimping on food? In each of these cases, it may be time to provide some help to ensure that your loved ones get balanced meals to bolster their health.
- Judgment: Are your loved ones not accomplishing what they used to? We all slow down a bit. But maybe they're not sleeping at night and are so tired in the morning that it takes them a long time to get up and dressed. They misjudge the time it takes to get ready to leave the house and miss appointments. Do they talk about doing projects that never get done? Perhaps they're defeated that their tools are in the basement, the project is outside and it’s all too much for them. Or conversely, they're telling you what you want to hear—that they're capable of managing all that they used to when they're really not. This is natural because your loved ones may be afraid of being moved out of their familiar surroundings. In-home assistance can be a comfort to them and to you.
- Uncooperativeness with the Caregiver: For those who do have some help at home, perhaps from a family member, often the older (or frailer) person becomes uncooperative about normal activities of daily living. They refuse to bathe or change out of their favorite shirt, or eat at regular intervals. Sometimes what’s needed is someone new. Often folks cooperate more readily with an outsider. Manners might surface when you thought they were gone!
- Caregiver Fatigue: If your loved one lives with an older spouse or sibling or an adult child, watch for signs of weariness in the caregiver. Often wives who care for ailing husbands are physically and emotionally exhausted from managing the lion’s share of decisions and household chores. And older husbands who take on responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning tire from the new tasks that were never a responsibility. Even healthy, younger adults caring for elders can be worn by managing their parents’ lives and their own. Increasing trips to pharmacies and doctors also take their toll on the driver or what we often refer to as the ‘healthcare interpreter’ who goes to the appointments, negotiates with the insurance company and adds more responsibilities to their growing list. Ask yourself, what’s a realistic work load for a person that age? If it’s too much, some outside help can provide needed respite for the caregiver.
If you live far from your loved ones and have to rely on the phone, listen for verbal cues that could tell you how they are really faring. Avoid yes or no answers; phrase your questions carefully, so you get details. For example, ask what they did between noon and 4 p.m. today, what they ate for dinner last night and which article they liked best in the magazine you both read. If a family member is the caregiver, listen for fatigue in his or her voice.
Remember, your loved ones might not be able to do it all themselves anymore. Chances are, you can’t fill the gap all by yourself. Getting extra help at home may help your loved ones remain independent and safe in their home longer, which is where they want to be.
To learn more about Holy Redeemer Support at Home, call 215-698-3719 for a FREE phone consultation.