Most of us dread the thought that we might have to intercede on our loved ones behalf, but there are real signs a senior needs help. We don’t want to believe it, and they don’t want to believe it. And it is not unusual to procrastinate and hope that our parent or friend will have the presence of mind to know that they need to get help. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and family and friends frequently have to be the people who start the conversation. Aging isn’t easy and recognizing the signs that a senior needs help is crucial. That’s because, for most people, asking for help is difficult. Sometimes, the elder simply isn’t capable of recognizing that help is needed.
As friends and family we also try to talk ourselves out of having the conversation. We tell ourselves that, “She’d never listen to me, anyway.” Or “Dad would never accept help, he’s too proud.” or “It’s not time yet, let’s wait”. And so we wait and do what we can ourselves and try to help the elder with tasks, all the while still wondering, “When do I suggest they get some help?”
There’s no reason to wonder when as there are some very good signs a senior needs help and getting the help they need will enhance their life. It can reduce hospital admissions, falls and may even save their life. Use this guide to recognize the signs a senior need help and when you should step in:
Signs a Senior Needs Help
- Physical Condition: Does the person have a medical condition that affects daily living? For example, dressing, grooming, shaving, toileting, eating.
- Personal Care: Are baths/showers being taken regularly? Is there any body odor? Are teeth and hair brushed and washed regularly? Are incontinence products worn if necessary and changed regularly and correctly?
- Driving: Have new dings, dents or scratches appeared on vehicles?
- Nutrition: Is their weight stable? Is the refrigerator properly stocked with a variety of foods? Does all the food have current expiration dates? Is there spoiled food in the refrigerator or on the counters?
- Household Tasks: Are household chores being done regularly? For example, dusting, laundry, vacuuming. Are bed linens changed regularly?
- Socialization: Do they exhibit frustration, irritability, or anxiety about leaving the house or spending time with others? Have they stopped participating in social activities they used to enjoy, such as bingo, golf or going out to eat?
- Mental Health: Are there memory lapses? Is there inconsistency between words and action? Have they abandoned hobbies or activities they used to enjoy? Are they experiencing mood swings or appear to suffer from, despair or depression?
- Medication: Are medications being taken regularly and on time? Are medications being refilled on schedule? Does the senior understand what the medications are being taken for?
- Finances, Mail, Paperwork: Is the senior having difficulty managing their checkbook, finances, bills and personal affairs? Are there past due notices arriving? Is mail piling up? Is there a reasonable amount of cash on hand? Are important documents or similar items like purses, wallets and keys being misplaced frequently or for long periods of time? Are they appearing in unusual places?
- Safety, Security and Sanitation: Are appliances being left on such as the stove or coffee pot? Does the senior fall asleep with cigarettes burning? Is the house allowed to get too hot or too cold? Is the house always unlocked? Has the senior fallen in the past 6 months? Have there been multiple falls? Is there clutter on the floor? Is trash piling up in or around the house? Are toilets functioning properly? Is pet debris evident?
If you have a concern with even one set of indicators, it’s time to acknowledge it, learn more about what is causing it and what options are available to overcome it. Speak openly, calmly, and honestly about the issue and the type of assistance needed to overcome it. If you are unsure how to begin the conversation, there are many good articles on methods to do this. We suggest using the analogy of tools if you think the senior may be resistant to the conversation.
Keep your efforts as informal as possible. Rather than going through the house like an inspector with a checklist, make your observations through normal, casual interaction. Make a mental note when you see things that are of concern. Keep conversation non-threatening and cooperative. Make every effort to respect the senior’s wishes while assisting with their needs.
Frequently, when a senior needs help, simple changes can make a big improvement, and some of these indicators are directly related to a medical condition or can be fixed by a change in medication. We encourage you to be proactive and avoid a crisis situation that throws everyone into an emotional reaction. Calm, rational transitions are easier on everyone than stressful ones when you notice signs a senior needs help.
Finally, keep in mind that family members and friends often see the changes in the way a senior moves, acts, thinks, and responds to situations around them and too often dismiss them until one of two things happen. Either you begin to spend so much time helping the senior yourself that you have little time for your own responsibilities or the senior experiences a physical or medical crisis. Both of these result in undue stress for you and the senior. Stay proactive and aware of the elder’s needs as well as your own. There are plenty of tools and solutions to address every issue and keep everyone healthy and safe, and if you need us, we’re here with qualified companion caregivers who are skilled at making everyone’s life easier and less stressful!