Use this time together to observe your loved one and know the signs of when additional help is needed
The holidays are a time for celebration and reflection.
As you visit your loved one(s) this holiday season, it is important to use this time not only to celebrate with them but also to observe their living environment, physical health and mental/emotional well-being. As the temperatures drop, many spend less time outside and for some, more time alone. The toll that the social isolation can have on seniors, looking for the signs of when additional help and companionship is needed in the home becomes all the more critical.
Here are a few of top warning signs that you or your loved one might benefit from additional help in the home:
Changes in Balance or Mobility
Questions to ask:
“How did I/my loved one get around before and how has this changed?”
If a change has been identified, “when did I/you notice this change?”
If you or your loved one is experiencing delayed movement or pain while moving it could be a sign of joint or muscle damage or a neurological issue so making an appointment with your healthcare provider will be extremely important.
In addition, if someone is unsteady on their feet, they may be at risk of falling which could lead to a severe injury and/or potentially a lengthy hospital/rehabilitation facility stay. If you or someone you know is having trouble walking and keeping their balance, they may need a walker or cane to help them ambulate. Likewise, if someone is having trouble getting out of a chair, up/down stairs, off of a toilet or out of the shower, this may be a sign that they could benefit from medical equipment such as a walker, cane or wheelchair to help them get around safely and more easily.
Many people are afraid to admit that they cannot do the things they once did with ease as they think it means they will need to leave the one place they love the most, their home. It is important to understand and/or reiterate to your loved one that THIS IS NOT THE CASE! Home healthcare exists to help keep seniors and/or the disabled living safely and independently at home. The role of an ABC home health aide/personal care worker is to join the individual(s) at his/her/their home for as little as two hours a week to 24 hours a day,7 days a week to help them with toileting, showering, light housekeeping and any other activities of daily living (ADLs) they might need help with. Help is only a phone call away!
Significant Weight Changes
Questions to ask:
“Have I/my loved one gained or lost a noticeable amount of weight?”
If a change has been identified, “what could this weight loss/gain be attributed to?” “Have my/my loved one’s eating habits changed?”
One of the most obvious signs of deteriorating physical (and mental) health is weight loss and probable causes could be cancer, depression, dementia or lack of nutrition in general. Significant weight loss can also be caused by medications so if there was a recent change in medications, it could be negatively impacting you/your loved one’s health and the drop in pounds is trying to tell you that. If someone loses too much weight, especially as they age, this can make them weak and therefore cause them to lose motivation to get up and walk around or engage in activities they once used to enjoy.
On the other hand, if someone is gaining too much weight, this can be equally as problematic. Excessive weight gain can lead to obesity which can then result in geriatric diabetes, heart and/or cholesterol issues as well as impact mobility. Just as depression can cause some individuals to stop eating, depression can also cause someone to over-indulge and, in doing so, they are likely making poor nutrition choices. If you/your loved one is having trouble cooking balanced meals that one was once able to do, this can cause people to rely on unhealthy meal options with added sodium and artificial preservatives like microwaveable meals, bagged snacks, candy etc. Consuming such meal substitutes can lead to an increase in weight and water retention which can ultimately lead to obesity and fluid build-up that can cause pain and decreased motivation to move around. Especially if you notice excessive weight gain and there is concern that cooking healthy meals has become more of a challenge, it might be beneficial to bring in a homemaker who can assist with meal prep to ensure you/your loved one has access to healthy, balanced meals.
During the coronavirus pandemic many seniors began to feel more isolated because of the restrictions. With the seasons changing and life moving more indoors we may also begin to feel “the winter blues.” As a result, seniors may struggle more with feelings of depression and isolation. It is not always easy to gauge someone’s emotional state over the phone which is why such depression and anxiety can be hard to detect if you are not seeing the person frequently or as often as you once used to.
If you are unable to visit, it is important during phone calls that you ask the following questions:
“How did you sleep last night?”
“What have you been up to?”
“Have you been __(mention an activity they like)__?” [Ex. “Have you been reading a lot lately?”]
“Have you talked to __(mention someone they used to speak to or see frequently)__?” [Ex. “Have you talked to Cousin Joan lately?”]
“How are you feeling?”
Pay close attention to their responses. If they aren’t sleeping well or are taking more naps than usual, this could mean they are depressed and either unable to sleep at night and are tired during the day or are lacking motivation during the day, so they sleep. If they haven’t been doing much and seem to be bored (you can usually tell by their tone), this could contribute to feelings of depression and decreased self-esteem. At this point, it might be good to suggest and/or order them an activity book, puzzle or the like to help keep them busy and switch their day up a bit. If they seem to have given up on activities, they used to like or normal routines they used to have/enjoy, this could also be a sign of depression and deteriorating mental health. If they haven’t heard from family and friends that they used to see or hear from often, this can cause increased loneliness and decreased self-esteem whereby they are subconsciously thinking they did something wrong to cause the lack of communication. These isolating patterns of behavior and thoughts can not only make seniors feel more depressed, but it can also cause their cognitive abilities to be negatively impacted over time.
To help with isolation and depression, it may be beneficial to hire an ABC companion to pay a visit to you/your loved one for as little as one day a week or multiple times a week as this provides the level of friendship, companionship and human interaction that they so desire and miss during these challenging times.
Remember to take a look around your house/your loved one’s house when you visit.
“How has the condition of the home changed?”
“Is the condition of the home uncharacteristic of the person?” [Ex. Was my loved one a stickler for neatness and now the home is a mess?]
“Is there a pile of mail?”
“Is the refrigerator stocked?” [Be sure to check the dates on cheese, deli meats and other foods as some folks forget to discard spoiled items]
“Is this [home] safe for my loved one?”
As we age, some living conditions become unsafe and it is important to identify these unsafe conditions sooner rather than later. For instance, if laundry is down the basement and it requires you/your loved one with mobility issues to go downstairs, this would be considered unsafe. It is unsafe because it could lead to a fall that then could result in a debilitating injury or a lengthy/costly hospital stay. Alternatively, if the carpet in a certain area of the home has not been replaced in a while and is buckling or lifting, this is considered a trip hazard and should be fixed as soon as possible.
The role of a homemaker is to assist in the home with meal prep, running errands and light housekeeping and hiring an ABC homemaker can give you/your loved one peace of mind. Especially if the house is set up in a way that it is not as easy as it once was for someone to get around, signing up for homemaking can be all the difference in keeping someone living safely and happily in their home!
We now live in a society where many adult children and extended family live further and further away from aging loved ones who could use their support. For those who have family and friends nearby who are willing to help, they are the lucky ones. For those who aren’t as lucky or for the folks whose families and friends cannot accommodate the care required, ABC Home Healthcare Professionals is here to help!
ABC Home Healthcare Professionals is a local, family-owned full-service home care agency that is operated by a Certified Geriatric Care Manager and Board Licensed Nurse Practitioner with over 40 years of healthcare experience. With offices in Wakefield, Gloucester and Lawrence, ABC has the staff with the expertise to assist clients in a variety of different areas ranging from Metro Boston, North Shore, Cape Ann, Merrimack Valley and beyond. As an established leader in patient-directed care, ABC works closely with various healthcare professionals, long-term care insurance companies, community resources and other elder care agencies and facilities to maximize the services for you or your loved one in the most economical way possible. ABC Home Healthcare Professionals are committed to life at home and remain dedicated to providing the most advanced and comprehensive private and state-funded home care services.