By Sharon Witzell
Admitting the need for help and accepting assistance is not easy for people as they age. The responsibility often falls on family members to recognize the signs that an aging loved one might need support in completing daily living activities.
When that aging person has no family members, or none that live close by, it is the parish family that needs to support and help the elderly at home. How do you know if it is time to step in and help? Look for the red flags listed below.
First you may notice changes in physical function and mental status. This includes this long list: difficulty keeping track of time, sleeping for most of the day, poor diet or weight loss, loss of interest in hobbies and activities, changes in mood or extreme mood swings, difficulty getting up from a seated position, difficulty with walking, balance and mobility, unexplained bruising or injuries, forgetfulness, including forgetting to take medications or taking incorrect dosages, missing important appointments, consistent use of poor judgment such as falling for scams, sales pitches, or giving away money.
You may also notice poor personal hygiene. This could be unpleasant body odor, infrequent showering or bathing, a strong smell of urine in the house or on clothing, a noticeable decline in grooming habits and personal care such as unkempt hair, untrimmed nails, lack of oral care, or wearing dirty or stained clothing.
Finally you may see your senior loved one start neglecting their household responsibilities. They may have little or no fresh, healthy food in the fridge, a dirty house or extreme clutter, dirty laundry piling up, stains or wet spots on furniture or carpet, spoiled food that doesn’t get thrown away, stacks of unopened mail or an overflowing mailbox, late payment notices, bounced checks and calls from bill collectors, utilities being turned off due to missed payments, unexplained dents and scratches on their car.
If these signs are present, it doesn’t necessarily mean a move to assisted living or a nursing home is required. However, the red flags do indicate that daily supportive care is needed. Use the lists above as a starting point in the process of hiring home care to help you make informed and confident decisions to help elderly seniors in your family or your parish.
Witzell is program coordinator for the Office of Marriage and Family’s Senior Adult Ministries.