Care for older people can address a variety of tasks depending on the individual. Although aging is inevitable, the speed and nature of the process are different for everyone. Initially, some people may simply need check-ins to make sure their basic needs are being met. Here are some of the issues to monitor:
- Nutrition: Are they eating enough nutritional food? Is food being stored safely?
- Hydration: Are they drinking enough fluids?
- Hygiene: Are they visibly clean and well-groomed? Are their living spaces acceptably tidy? Do they have
- hygiene supplies?
- Health appointments: Do they keep up with medical, dental, and optometric appointments? Do they run out of medications or are they stocked with necessities?
- Sleep: Are they getting enough sleep as well as rest breaks or naps?
- Finances: Are their rent and utility bills being paid regularly? Do they keep track of their income and expenditures?
- Safety: Do they have access to a cell phone or emergency necklace to call for help? Do they know how to call 911? Are they at risk of falling? Is a fire escape plan in place? Are flashlights with up-to-date batteries available? Do they remember to turn off the oven? Do they lock their doors?
- Socialization: Do they have visitors, phone friends, or opportunities to go on outings?
Understanding the human need for independence is vital because many individuals “don’t want to be a bother.” Many won’t even admit to themselves that they need more assistance. A point that many family members don’t understand is that helping doesn’t automatically mean taking everything. Often it means lending an ear or lending a hand, letting somebody know that you both can share certain tasks. Ironically, it’s frequently easier for some people to accept help when they believe that they’re helping you. You’ll want to brainstorm with your available family members to find what works in your situation.
Virgie, an 80-year-old widow, has lived alone for many years in the small home she shared with her husband. She’s becoming increasingly short of breath, making household chores more challenging. She switches between expecting family members to automatically do all the physically challenging chores with assuring them that she’s “fine” and can just ask her old neighbor friend to help out. What family members could do, if possible, is contact her to make specific arrangements in advance. This provides Virgie with some control of the scheduling, also making her feel cared for. Certain family members can turn tasks into social visits by bringing lunch and doing paperwork or paying bills together. A similar option might be doing her yard work while another family member enjoys lessons from Virgie on how to make biscuits.
When Is It Time To Get Help?
When you start worrying that more care is needed, take stock of your own anxiety. What is giving you cause to worry? Make notes of concrete events and dates indicating a potential problem. To assess your loved one’s home situation, don’t interrogate them, scold them, or ransack their refrigerators and cabinets. You can gain a lot of information by spending time with them creating memories: enjoy preparing a meal together or watch a ball game. Confronting people tends to make them defensive, generating negative feelings all around.
Sometimes people may seem more disabled than they really are. For example, someone who is losing their hearing may come across as losing their mental sharpness – often all they need is a hearing exam and a fitting for hearing aids. Similarly, changes in mobility mean changes in a person’s ability to go places and meet up with friends.
Depression, from various causes, is common enough among younger adults but is surprisingly overlooked in older adults. A sensitive physician specializing in geriatrics might provide suggestions for medications that won’t interfere with present medications and conditions.
There are clear signs indicating the need for action. Legally, the basic question centers on a person being a danger to themselves or others. If they are not consistently able to care for themselves, help is needed. Legally anyone has the right to engage in unconventional behaviors, but only as long as it puts nobody in danger. Red flags include the following:
- Physical changes affecting everyday functioning or safety such as difficulty walking, increasing falls, loss of vision or hearing
- Cognitive changes such as poor judgment or memory loss affecting safety
- Social withdrawal
- Neglecting hygiene and other self-care necessities such as cleaning teeth
- Inability to maintain medical care such as appointments, picking up medications, etc.
- Ignoring obligations such as paying bills or feeding pets
As time goes by and the need for difficult conversations grows more imminent, it may be easy to procrastinate “The Discussion,” but sooner is better than later. Don’t do it the way many parents in past eras told their children about sex, but bring it up casually. Don’t push if your loved one is uncomfortable. Follow their lead if they cautiously bring up the topic themselves.
Melvin has always been an active and busy man, but now he often stares into the distance, shows little interest in playing with the grandchildren, and is definitely exhibiting memory lapses. Is he getting dementia or grieving the recent loss of his wife? He could be grieving the loss of his car since his doctor told him that his vision was too poor to safely be driving anymore. Melvin might also be hiding the fact that his painful arthritis worsening. As always, a visit to a trusted healthcare professional is in order to sort out what’s happening with Melvin. A family member who drives him to the doctor might have a pre-written note to hand to the receptionist with the instruction for his healthcare team to read it before being seen; if they know the backstory as well as your concerns, they’ll be better prepared to give him care specifically tailored to his needs.
What Are The Benefits Of Having Outside Help?
It’s human nature to want to take care of our families without involving strangers. The truth is not so simple. While we might save money initially by doing everything at home ourselves, the invisible price is high. Your time and energy resources are not unlimited. Paying with time borrowed from sleep is not an option!
In addition, part of you will resent feeling anxious, frustrated, and maybe even that you’re being punished. Your loved one will sense your anger but feel helpless to change the situation. Getting outside help benefits everyone. Not only will both of you get more sleep, but you’ll both be able to maintain more of your traditional roles. Spouses and parents won’t be forced to feel like children.
A Final Word
Imagine how parents feel when their infants turn into toddlers, then teenagers, and then independent adults. The loss is painful because each time, the world as they knew it has ended for them. The change from independence to dependence is one of life’s most frightening stages. You can’t stop it but you definitely can help make the transition as meaningful and fulfilling as possible.