Last week I had the privilege of traveling back to my hometown to visit my parents and celebrate my mom's 75th birthday.
They are five hours away, so it's a real treat to be able to spend a weekend with them. A weekend full of so many memories, many familiar faces, the home they've been in for more than 30 years and the small community they've lived in all 56 years of their married life!
Every corner seems to turn up another funny or embarrassing story that is usually about me! Being the oldest and a daughter, the only daughter, no less, of course, I begin to wonder. Should I be doing anything? Are they really doing OK? They sure seem happy and involved and healthy. What will the future bring? How will we (my brothers and I) ever make the right decisions for and with Mom and Dad? How will I ever know?
There are a few normal concerns of aging that might jeopardize the independence they are so enjoying. I need to pay attention to some of these things. Routine socialization is one of the key aspects of successful aging. They need to continue to find and be involved in social activities. Poor nutrition that leads to weight loss can be a concern and can be caused by multiple factors. Some of that may be social, especially when someone lives alone. Some of it may be just the ease of getting groceries and cooking. Safety is a real concern, especially those suffering with an illness or mobility problems. Preventing falls by installing grab bars, yellow tape on steps, or painting the toilet seats should be a consideration. What about all those steps down to the laundry room?
Transportation is a big challenge. The first step, of course, is determining their safety in driving. If they are forced to give up their keys, then what? The best programs can be offered, they can have a desire to be social, but if they can't get there, what good is it?
I also know my Mom and Dad aren't likely to ask for help. It's becoming more and more evident that they are going to want me to believe everything is just fine. How do I really know for sure? It is up to adult children or neighbors, friends or church friends to watch for signs. Neglecting the signs will likely lead to the kind of dependence they are trying to avoid.
Below are some simple things to look for. If you're an adult child, please watch for these signs. Next month I'd like to share some tips on what to do now. You're seeing some things that might jeopardize their independence. How do you talk to Mom and Dad about those things? Where do you start the conversation?
Signs of Aging:
Look in refrigerator, freezer and drawers. Has food spoiled because mom can't get to the grocery store? Does she have difficulty cleaning tight, cluttered places?
Look over the grocery list. Has your loved one's declining health prompted her to purchase more convenience and junk foods, and neglect proper nutrition? Is she losing weight?
Look on top of furniture and countertops. Are dust and dirt signs that household tasks are becoming more difficult for your parents?
Look up at fans and ceiling. Has the inability to lift her arms and climb step stools prevented your loved one from cleaning soot and grime from high places? Caution your senior not to climb.
Look down at floors and stairways. Have shaking hands spilled drinks and food, soiling vinyl, wood, carpets and walkways? Are frayed carpets, throw rugs, objects and furniture creating tripping hazards? Does dad's bad knee put him at greater risk on cracked sidewalks and with broken stair rails?
Look under beds and sofas. Is your senior having difficulty organizing old newspapers, books and magazines, which are creating a fire hazard?
Look through the mail. Is mom's dementia causing her to forget to pay bills and answer correspondence?
Look below bathroom and kitchen sinks. Is poor eyesight making it difficult for your elderly relative to read medication labels and to properly store cleaning materials? Is he forgetting to refill medications and to take them on schedule? Check the refill date against the number of pills in the bottle to help determine if your loved one is taking medication regularly or call the pharmacy.
Look at your senior's appearance. Is clothing dirty and unkempt, and is your loved one neglecting personal hygiene?
Look to your parent's neighbors and other close friends to find out about their daily routine. Are your seniors at home more, watching television and avoiding stimulating conversation and companionship?
DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.
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