Caring for aging parents is a responsibility that many caregivers shoulder with love and dedication. During your visits, being attuned to subtle signs can help you ensure the well-being and safety of your loved ones. Let’s explore key red flags to look for when visiting aging parents, this will give you the knowledge needed to provide the best possible care.
Your observations can play a critical role in identifying potential health issues or future issues.
Monitoring their Physical Health:
Mobility and Falls Risk:
Watch for changes in how they walk, their balance, and changes to their coordination. Are tasks taking longer than normal? Do they need more help than normal? Did they mention they tripped the other day? You can also take note of any tripping hazards in the home, and observe how confidently your parents move around compared to previous visits.
Pro tip: Ask family and friends you trust, who don’t visit often, if your loved one seems different than in previous years. Sometimes those fresh eyes can see things you may not notice if you are the day-to-day or primary family member.
Action Plan: Implement home modifications such as grab bars, non-slip mats, and adequate lighting to enhance safety.
Follow up: Regularly reassess the home environment and make adjustments as needed.
Check for signs of weight loss or gain, as extreme fluctuations could indicate underlying health issues. Do they not eat some of the foods they used to love? Is there a lot left over on the plate? Or are they eating MORE?
Observe eating habits and assess if they are maintaining a well-balanced diet.
Action Plan: Collaborate with a nutritionist to create a well-balanced meal plan, or connect with a private care manager to help navigate the many resources in your area.
Follow-up: Connect with a professional to periodically review and adjust the meal plan based on changes in health or dietary needs.
Monitoring Mental and Emotional Health:
Emotional well-being is as important as physical health, and caregivers should be vigilant for signs of mental health changes.
Look for memory lapses, confusion, or forgetfulness that may indicate cognitive decline. Assess their ability to manage daily tasks and solve problems independently. If you notice things take a little longer than they used to, it may be worth monitoring closely.
Action Plan: If you see something concerning schedule a cognitive assessment with a healthcare professional. You can ask their Primary Care doctor, or you can even have an occupational therapist come in to do a functional assessment.
Follow-up: Discuss assessment results work with healthcare providers on appropriate interventions and come up with a reasonable action plan. DO NOT expect immediate results and changes.
Pay attention to changes in mood, such as increased irritability, sadness, or social withdrawal. Discuss openly with your loved one about their feelings and any concerns they may have. sometimes it is hard to admit they may be struggling, and talking about your own first can help open the door to a discussion.
Action Plan: Encourage open communication and consider involving a mental health professional if needed. Even a trusted friend or companion can be helpful. Many people experience isolation and loneliness and are not often open about it.
Follow-up: Monitor emotional well-being through regular phone calls, or visits. Believe it or not, sending a letter can go a long way!
Ensuring a Safe Living Environment:
Creating a safe home environment is essential to prevent accidents and enhance overall well-being.
Check for trip hazards. Are there loose rugs and/or clutter that may increase the risk of falls? Check the lighting. Is there enough light in high-traffic areas and at night? Are there dark areas? It’s important to remember that as we age we need MORE light as our pupils become LESS flexible.
Action Plan: Conduct a comprehensive home safety assessment and make necessary modifications with the help of an Occupational Therapist.
Follow-up: Routinely revisit safety measures and update them based on changing needs. A lot of people are resistant at first, and it may be something that takes several conversations, started from a place of curiosity, to create lasting change.
You can easily spot when medications are not being adhered to for some people. Notice a lot of bottles lying around? Maybe the pill box they use seems too full or isn’t being used at all. Review medication schedules to ensure medications are being taken as prescribed.
Action Plan: Establish a medication management system, such as pill organizers or medication reminders. Safely dispose of expired medications and discuss any concerns with their healthcare provider.
Follow-up: Regularly review medications with healthcare providers and update the system as needed. There are amazing pill boxes that are electronic and give caregivers notice when pills are taken, or it can be as simple as using a pharmacy that sends the medications in daily packets.
Promoting Social Engagement:
Social connections are vital for mental and emotional well-being and many seniors experience isolation and loneliness. This has been shown to decrease life expectancy and negatively impact health and wellness.
Social Interactions and Hobbies
Assess the frequency and quality of social interactions with friends, family, or neighbors. And encourage participation in community activities to foster a sense of belonging. You can explore whether your parents are still engaging in hobbies and activities they enjoy by questioning or inviting their friends over while you visit. Ask questions, and be curious!
Action Plan: Facilitate opportunities for social engagement and hobby participation such as organizing gatherings or outings. Or helping identify new hobbies that match their current lifestyle.
Follow-up: Join a class with them, or explore opportunities to engage with people through senior centers or volunteer options. Show interest in their interests, and let them talk about it.. even if you’ve heard the story before.
Caring for aging parents or loved ones requires a constant and compassionate approach, while it can be overwhelming, there are many supports available. By implementing actionable plans and staying attuned to the physical, mental, and environmental aspects of their well-being, you can create a supportive and safe environment for their loved ones. Regular communication, observation, and addressing concerns promptly contribute to a holistic caregiving experience.
As a Loved one, your efforts make a profound difference in the lives of those you care for.