- Looking a little thin lately?
Losing weight is a natural part of ageing but you need to be careful that the weight loss is not unintentional. If you notice mum getting thinner, you should ask her why she is eating less; is she becoming forgetful, or is eating becoming too much effort? If they are not sure, you should encourage them to speak with their doctor, and help them to explore and discuss the reasons why they are not eating as much.
- Beginning to notice a change in basic hygiene.
A change in appearance such as dirty hair or body odour are obvious signs that someone isn’t bathing regularly and warrant a closer look. It can be signs of arthritis or general muscle weakness that is making it difficult for an older person to shampoo hair or shower easily. Our personal hygiene is important to our health, our self-esteem, and our acceptance by society when in social groups. Regardless of the cause, this requires a closer look.
- Issues with Dressing
Maybe Dad mis-buttoned his sweater for the umpteenth time. Perhaps Mum has been wearing the same skirt for three days in a row. If your parents begin to look unkempt, it might be time to look closer at their ability to dress themselves.
- Problems with Mobility.
Is mum having trouble swinging her legs out of bed and standing up? If yes, that's a mobility problem. Mobility refers to the ability to transfer your body from one object or position to another. For some, the first sign of trouble transferring occurs when they find themselves unable to get up off the toilet. Problems with transferring can lead to a fall, so closely monitor the situation and intervene before a catastrophe occurs.
- Frequent Falls
Falls can be caused by many things, from a simple stumble to an ear infection. And since we all fall from time to time, a one-time fall may not be cause for vigilance. However, if your parent experiences several falls in succession, its time to investigate further.
- House looking untidy?
We’re not talking about a little dust on the TV. We’re talking about clear signs the house isn’t being cleaned regularly: dirty bathrooms, dirty dishes always piled up in the sink, trash not being taken to the curb. Any noticeable but significant changes in how your parent typically tends to household chores are clear signs that help around the home is needed. Not only to give them a break, but to maintain the house and keep it free of obstructions.
- Personality Changes
Mum’s bubbly self, becoming sullen most of the time; or dad’s normally reserved behaviour turning into a party animal. The changes in behaviour and loss of inhibition can signal impending memory problems. You should discuss the change with your family doctor and determine if testing for a decline in your parent’s cognitive modality is appropriate.
- Patterns of Forgetfulness & Lapses in Home Safety
The key is to look for patterns of forgetfulness with your parents. Does dad leave the fire unattended while taking a trip to the supermarket, does he forget his keys even though you’ve reminded him a dozen times? Does Mum not want to drive the new car because she cannot get used to it? Each of these examples points not only to forgetfulness, but to an inability to live safely without supervision. Serious safety lapses clearly require immediate intervention.
- Repeating Things in Conversation
Again, we all do this from time to time. In a person with memory issues, repeating things in conversation will happen frequently and often without the person realizing they already said something once (or more). If your parent often repeats the same news multiple times without acknowledging it, you should seek medical attention for him or her
- Forgetting to Take Medications
This could be a sign of memory issues, or it may simply signal that your parent feels overwhelmed by his or her medication schedule. Try to find out what’s going on so you can help.
A conversation on home care can be very difficult. In other times the expectation was that the children would provide care to their ageing parents, but times are changing and we all live very busy lives now. With the break down of the extended family and with high levels of mobility, we may have neither the resources (large and extended family) or the proximity to do so.
We would advise, have the conversation early, no matter how difficult or awkward. The later the conversation is left the bigger the changes needed are. Its always better to introduce care and support gradually than in one big bang.
Your loved ones are probably frightened and alarmed at the loss of their abilities, and do not want to become a burden or to display weakness. So change the conversation. It’s not about getting care, it’s about exercising their choice to continue to live in their home and getting the services they want to help them age well.
Often once broached, parents will be receptive to the conversation and open to the idea of receiving in home help.
Its important to realise that all family members are affected and that needs to be taken into consideration. Having the conversation and putting a plan and support in place makes life easier for all.
There is a continuum of home and community services available as well as financial help so good research is needed to be prepared.