In today's world, many families are geographically spread apart. And we are not always able to provide the hands-on care we would like. The National Institute on Aging estimates that as many as 7 million Americans fit the definition of long-distance caregivers. Some adult children who provide care for aging parents live out of state, or even out of the country.
As a result, providing care for an aging loved one will be as common in the future as providing childcare is today. If you haven’t begun to talk about creating a care giving plan for the older ones you love with their needs and wishes in mind, now is the time.
If you live far away from an elderly parent, you may only see them a few times a year. Sometimes, even the healthiest elderly adult can decline quickly with age.
As a far-away family member who only sees your parent a few times a year, you may be in a better position to notice warning signs than other family members who live nearby, and who may have seen the changes happen more gradually.
When visiting an older family member, there are a few signs to watch for that their health may be in danger—and that their living situation may need to be rearranged, in a worst-case scenario.
What to keep an eye out for...
A messy house.
If your parent used to be meticulously clean—or at least reasonably so—and their home now looks significantly more unkempt than usual, this may be cause for concern.
Look for signs such as dishes piled up in the sink, old meals and plates lying around the living room, stacks of dirty laundry, unmade beds—none of these things are bad signs in and of themselves, but could contribute to a larger picture of decline if they are out of the ordinary, or happen along with other issues.
Signs of forgetfulness.
Do all your parent’s medication bottles have past expiration dates? Are there piles of unpaid bills on the kitchen counter? Are pots and pans scorched when your parent used to take meticulous care of their cookware? This could be a sign your parent has forgotten to turn off the stove burner one too many times.
Did your mom always look put-together—but now she can’t be bothered to throw on more than a dirty sweatshirt and sweatpants? Did your dad always used to shave—but now he has significant stubble? Is it clear your parent has not showered in a few days? If so, this might be a sign that the shower is getting too difficult to manage on their own. Look for significant changes in your parent’s personal hygiene routine.
Signs of depression.
Has your parent lost interest in things they used to enjoy doing? Have they stopped seeing their friends? Have their sleep patterns changed—are they sleeping much more or much less than usual? Have they experienced a loss recently—such as the death of a partner? These could all be signs of depression.
Has your parent lost a significant amount of weight? This could be a sign of something serious—including depression, heart problems, dementia, or even cancer. It could also be a sign that your parent no longer has the energy to cook, or has difficulty managing the kitchen.
Does your parent move more slowly than usual? Do they seem to have problems performing tasks they used to do with ease? Do they seem to be in pain when they move? This could be a sign of larger health issues.
In summary, if you notice some (or all) of these signs next time you're visiting a loved one, talk to them first. Get a sense of their concerns and schedule them for an appointment with their doctor. From there, you can get a sense of what your parent’s ongoing needs are—and whether changes need to be made to keep them safe.
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