Going Home for the Holidays? merge2gether.com Offers a List of Signs That an Aging Parent May Need to Move or Get More Help at Home

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The holiday season is often a time for adult children to make the long-distance trip to see their parents and other older relatives. Depending on the length of time between visits and the health of the older adult, adult children can be surprised when they see their parent in a diminished state of health. Are these health concerns indicators that the person may need to move to a higher level of care?

These suggestions have given me some idea as to what I should be looking when I visit my mother this Christmas.

Better to be prepared than be surprised. The following list includes issues that may be signs of a parent's declining health. Older adults who exhibit these behaviors may need greater attention from their children and grandchildren. Some families may even need to consider having the aging parent move in with family or friends.

Home Environment
Some apparent changes in health status involve the home. If the older family member’s housekeeping has declined from the norm or to an unsafe level of cleanliness, then action may be wise. Look for the following:

Rotting food in the fridge or cupboards
Laundry piling up
Mail unopened
Bills unpaid with second and third notices occurring
Garbage not being taken out or being collected outside the garbage can
Utilities discontinued, such as cable, electric, heating, etc.
Signs of unwanted pests in house and/or yard

Housekeeping may be too physically demanding, or opening the mail and paying bills may be too mentally taxing. If either situation is the case, the physical and financial consequences can be dire. Some help may be in order so they can get these tasks done while maintaining as much independence as possible.

Physical Appearance
Lack of personal grooming and hygiene are two obvious signs that something may be wrong. Concerns include:

Change in weight, either loss or gain
Lack of overall hygiene and personal grooming
    Dirty and/or ill-fitting clothes
    Unkempt hair and nails (for diabetics, toe nails can be a big health issue)
    Body odor

Declining attention to personal hygiene might be the result of a physical health issue: for example, getting in and out of the bath may be too difficult. Lack of interest in personal appearance could also be due to a poor mental health; sometimes people stop caring about how they look due to depression or lethargy.

Mental Health
Mental health can be a difficult to discuss, especially with members of the older generations. Attempting a conversation about mental wellbeing may be necessary, however, if the person exhibits one of a number of behaviors that may be indicative of mental decline, such as:

Memory loss or lack of focus
Excessive drinking: The National Institutes of Health recommends that people over age 65 have no more than seven drinks per week and no more than three drinks on any one day.
Excessive use of recreational drugs
Self-medicating with psychiatric medicines that alter chemical levels in the brain, impacting mood and behavior.
Depression (for an extended period of time); signs of depression include:
    Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
    Loss of appetite or increased appetite
    Confusion or an inability to focus
    Difficulty sleeping
    Crying too often or too much
    Feeling worthless
    Thoughts of death or suicide
    Constant fatigue
Extreme isolation and time alone: A person who is grieving the death of a partner, spouse or loved one may find themselves being alone more than is healthy.

Be aware that losing a partner is not the only cause for an older parent to grieve or become depressed. Hearing loss, declining vision, having to surrender a driver’s license, moving out of their own home, or leaving an established social group are all considerable losses for the aging parent. Adult children should both allow their parents time to grieve for these changes and provide the necessary support if and when these events result in mental, physical, or emotional consequences.

Physical Health
Changes in a parent’s physical capabilities or level of health are not always obvious. During each visit, be sure to keep an eye out for any of the following behaviors, which may be signs of declining physical health:

Not taking medicines as prescribed
Mixing medicine with alcohol and/or recreational drugs
Change in gait (walking)
Unstable balance
Open wounds or sores
Bruises
Missing physician appointments
Falling
Change in appetite
Incontinence - bowel and/or bladder

Any and all of the above concerns about an older relative should be addressed with the help of a personal physician. Treatment plans depend on many factors and might involve medication, talk therapy, physical therapy and/or occupational therapy.

If affordable, a geriatric social worker, case manager or care aid can help monitor health issues as well as manage communication with distant caregivers.

If moving is part of the recommended treatment plan, family involvement is key. For additional resources, see the National Institute on Aging and merge2gether.com.

For more information about moving in and living together, go to merge2gether.com.
About merge2gether (http://www.merge2gether.com): Founded in 2011, merge2gether is headquartered in Oakland, California. merge2gether.com is an online community offering resources to guide people as they think and talk through the process of moving in with another person. merge2gether provides free information, questions-and-answers and ideas to people of all ages and at all stages of life.

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Beverly Aabjerg
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