Seeing family over the holidays is a special tradition. Whether you and your loved ones are able to gather in person, or catch up over the phone or via video, you may notice that your mom or dad isn’t doing as well as they were the last time you saw them.
It can be difficult to judge whether they are simply aging or if they are starting to need more help to stay well. The list below will provides you with specific things to look for that will help you gauge how your loved one is doing.
1. Issues with hygiene
Cleanliness is an important indicator of personal health and wellbeing. Keep an eye on how your loved one keeps up with clipping their fingernails, washing their hair, etc. A lapse in one of these hygiene activities could be caused by running out of shampoo and needing to buy more, or it could indicate a more serious issue like problems with memory or attention to detail.
2. Increased clutter
Increased clutter around your loved one’s house is another thing to look out for. It may be that they just have not had time to clean, but it could also mean that their focus is drifting. Most people prefer to avoid clutter, so keeping track of it can give you a sense for how your loved one is doing maintaining a tidy and safe living environment.
3. Unfinished chores
Unfinished chores are another potential sign that your loved one’s ability to focus is decreasing. You might notice that they’ve left a broom and dustpan in the middle of a room, or left the dryer door open with laundry still inside. If you discover something like that, mention it to them in passing. See if you can determine whether they were interrupted and didn’t have time to finish the task, or if they forgot it entirely.
4. Expired food in fridge
Spoilt food left in the fridge, moldy bread, or other food issues are common signs that your loved one might need more help maintaining a safe and healthy living environment. You can also watch out for overstocked groceries, like multiple gallons of milk sitting in the fridge, since that could indicate a memory problem.
5. Changes to habits or patterns
You might not know off the top of your head when your loved one typically checks the mail or turns the lights off in their house, but their neighbors have probably developed a sense of what is normal to expect from your loved one. Giving the neighbors a call is a quick and easy way to check in and make sure everything is in order. Ask if they have noticed an overfull mailbox, interior lights left on all night, or anything else out of the ordinary.
6. Missed medication
Taking medication correctly is critical. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to keep track of medications if you haven’t been able to visit your loved one in person. If their memory is a sensitive topic, try approaching it indirectly. For example, you can avoid asking “have you missed any doses of your medicine lately?” by instead asking “how are you doing keeping up with all your medications? I know it can be a lot to deal with.” Re-phrasing the question makes it less accusatory, which will hopefully make your loved one more comfortable sharing important details with you.
7. Missed appointments
Missed appointments can be an early sign that your loved one could use more help, since they occur infrequently and are harder to remember than chores or errands. If you’re not sure whether your loved one is keeping their appointments, offer to give them a call with a reminder. This can be an opportunity for you to make sure that they are able to maintain their calendar.
8. Increased repetitiveness
Memory problems are most apparent during conversations, and often show up in the form of repetitive stories or comments. Everyone has a favorite story that they tell every year, but being more repetitive than usual can be a sign of reduced mental clarity. If your loved one starts to repeat stories several times in a single conversation, it might be time to reach out to a medical professional to get a sense for what your parent needs.
9. Changes in energy levels
One final thing to look out for is whether your loved one is more tired than normal. This can indicate several issues, including medical and mental health needs. This fatigue can show up indirectly as several other signs we’ve listed, like missing appointments or unfinished chores. As with any personal issue, try to find sensitive ways to ask why certain things aren’t going well.
What to Do
If you begin to notice any of these signs, take notes about when it happened and what you observed. Trying to remember items like this can feel overwhelming, especially if you notice different things over a long span of time. Writing them down will help you remember them, which will make it easier to discuss them later, or provide information to a clinical professional.
If your loved one needs more help, don’t be worried! There are plenty of care options available and many other people have experienced the same situation. The team at Ashton Place is always available to answer your questions about what steps you should take next, and to provide advice about what kind of care your loved one might need. Please give us a call with your questions: 315-462-3140.