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Do Mom and Dad Need Help?

Today's Medicine

Visiting aging parents

Going home for the holidays can be an eye-opening experience.

It’s often the reason why the weeks and months following the holiday season are some of the busiest times at the Geriatric Evaluation and Management Clinic at Methodist Hospital. Our job is to evaluate and give assistance to older adults and their families when quality of life has been affected by changing health conditions.

The effects of aging

Aging brings on a number of inevitable changes. We all experience declining eyesight, achy joints, thinning skin and changes to our muscular and circulatory systems. It’s our job to determine whether other risk factors make it harder for mom or dad to stay home on their own.

Those issues can include:

  • Memory loss 
  • Multiple medical conditions 
  • Social/psychological issues 
  • Falls 
  • Incontinence 
  • Wandering 
  • Depression 
  • Weight loss 
  • Decline or lack of independent functioning 

Top 5 warning signs

So what can children, family members or friends watch for when they visit the home of an elderly adult? What are the warning signs more help is needed?

  1. Decreasing cleanliness
    While we all have a varying degree of cleanliness in our homes, you need to ask yourself, “Is this house kept up about the way it’s always been?” If there are piles of debris, mail, clothing or groceries that are beyond the norm, you may want to explore whether they are having a hard time keeping up. 
  2. Changes in appearance or hygiene
    If mom or dad has always been neat and tidy in their look, and all of a sudden no longer keep up with appearances, it may be a sign of decline. A dip in hygiene can also be an indicator that bathing or personal care may be becoming much more difficult to manage.
  3. Furniture cruising
    When older adults lose their confidence in the ability to maintain their balance, they may grab on to pieces of furniture as they walk through a room. And while that may be fine in a certain environment, it only takes once for a table or chair to topple under their weight and cause a fall. It may be time to explore assistive devices such as a walker or cane, as well as hand rails in the bathroom.
  4. Old or expired food
    A quick-run through of the refrigerator, freezer or cupboards can give you a clear glimpse of an older adult’s ability to get good nutrition. Is there an adequate supply of food or are they overstocked? Are the cupboards or refrigerator filled with moldy or expired goods? If foods are growing a new life form, they need to be thrown out. Ask if they noticed their foods had gone bad.
  5. Changes in demeanor
    Depression and dementia can be a very real thing for older adults, and not always easy to recognize. If mom and dad still live together, ask them each alone how the other is coping. Sometimes you may hear very different stories. If they live alone, watch for changes in their emotional or mental state.

Having the tough conversation

Besides evaluating mom and dad’s ability to continue to live on their own, being home for the holidays is a great time to have the hard discussions about future care and end of life. Yes, those discussions can be uncomfortable, but they are much better done when everyone is home and can hear future wishes than when communication is no longer possible.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is your primary care provider and have you discussed a health care directive?
  • Do you have a Power of Attorney?
  • Do you have a Living Will?

Being home for the holidays is also about celebrating, so be sure to focus on what makes your time together enjoyable. Take this time to communicate and share!


 

Rebecca Reilly

About the Author:

Rebecca Reilly, MD, is medical director of the Methodist Hospital Geriatric Evaluation and Management Clinic

See More Articles by Rebecca Reilly