With the holiday season coming up, families are starting to plan Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas parties, and shared vacations. These family-oriented occasions are a time to catch up, but for adult children of aging parents, the holidays also offer an opportunity to check in on how seniors are really doing. Before packing those bags, read on to find out about some of the red flags to look for that may indicate failing physical or mental health.
Unintended Weight Loss
One of the easiest-to-spot signs of physical decline in seniors is unintended weight loss. Possible causes of weight loss range from a lack of interest in preparing and cooking food, especially for seniors who live alone, to side effects from medication and serious mental and physical conditions, including cancer, dementia, and depression.
When seniors start losing weight unintentionally, they should schedule appointments with their doctors. If seniors are not taking this worrisome symptom seriously or have refused to seek outside help, their adult children may want to step in. If the problem is health-related, make sure the parent gets the medical care that he or she needs and if it’s a behavioral issue, consider recommending a move to an assisted living apartment where healthy, nutritious meals will be provided to residents, no cooking or shopping required.
Balance and Mobility Issues
Take a look at how senior parents walk, and when. If they are experiencing noticeable changes in gait or obvious symptoms of pain, those can be signs of underlying joint, muscle, or even neurological issues. Lack of balance and a reluctance to get up and walk, at all, can also indicate both physical and mental health issues.
These balance and mobility problems can also place seniors at a higher risk of experiencing damaging falls. According to the CDC’s most recently released data, around 2.4 million older adults aged 65+ visited emergency rooms across the country as a result of personal injuries, and 90% of those injuries occurred as a result of unintentional falls. Don’t ignore the risk of falls, which can lead to hip fractures and other serious problems.
Unaddressed mobility limitations can also impact seniors’ quality of life in other unexpected ways. When older adults become afraid of falling and injuring themselves, they often stop participating in the activities of daily life and become more withdrawn. This decrease in physical and social activity will only make seniors frailer and even more susceptible to fall injuries, so it needs to be addressed as early on as possible by a qualified healthcare provider.
Damage to Cars or Garages
Most older adults who live in suburban or rural areas continue to drive well into their retirements, and that’s just fine if they can do so safely. Unfortunately, driving skills are some of the first to decline in old age. Adult children who are worried about whether their parents may be endangering themselves or others by continuing to get behind the wheel should take a peek in the garage to look for issues like dents or scratches on the car or scrapes along the walls.
If there are any signs that a senior’s driving abilities have declined, ask to go for a ride. If the driver is drifting across lanes, slowing down to ridiculously low speeds, or failing to look behind the car while backing up, those are all signs it’s time to find alternative transportation methods. Research options and be prepared for an uncomfortable conversation. Most seniors don’t like the idea of giving up their licenses because it impedes their independence.
Changes in Mood and Behavior
It can be hard for long-distance caregivers to judge their loved ones’ emotional states over the phone, but it’s much easier during in-person visits. Look for signs of worsening cognition and mental health associated with aging such as increased withdrawal from social activities, loss of interest in personal hobbies, changes in sleep patterns, and obvious issues with basic home maintenance or personal hygiene.
Adult children who notice sudden or unusual behavioral changes in their adult parents, such as confusion and agitation, should help them get medical care immediately. If the changes seem to be part of a general downward progression, consider suggesting a move to a senior living apartment where older adults can socialize with their peers, get help with medications, and receive dedicated mental health care.
It’s Time for a Change
When adult children of aging parents need to step in to ensure their loved one’s safety, it’s best to have a suggested plan in place first. North Carolina residents should check out Heritage Woods. This beautiful assisted and independent living community offers all the amenities of home while simultaneously giving residents access to the assistance they need not just to stay safe but to thrive in their old age. Learn more about Heritage Woods online or call (336) 768-2011 to schedule a tour.