Thanksgiving Reality Checks – The Untold Stories of Seniors Living Alone
Thanksgiving is a time when we gather around the table to give thanks with our families that we may have not seen in a while. If you have an aging loved one in your family, it is also a time to be curious. During your visit, with heightened observational skills, you have a golden opportunity to take stock and notice cognitive changes or memory issues with loved ones that you may not have noticed before. Indeed, the busiest time of the year for Aging Life Care Managers ® is over the holidays when family members reach out for advice, support and guidance as they realize that their older loved ones are beginning to have difficulties managing their affairs. Here are some areas for you to consider exploring:
Review Finances – Are bills being paid on time? Is mail piling up unsorted? Are multiple credit cards being ordered because others are lost? Is there any evidence of your loved one being a victim of a financial scam? Are large amounts of cash being left around the home?
Assess Driving – Is the car getting dinged, damaged and not repaired? Is the driver getting lost or missing turns? For the brave of heart, you may want to take a drive with your loved one to further assess their abilities.
Observe Behaviors – Are they storing items in unusual places (e.g., keys in the refrigerator)? Are they having significant difficulty finding the right word or substituting vague words for more specific ones (e.g., “thing” instead of “ book”)? Are they repeating themselves continuously? Are they dressing inappropriately for the weather or showing signs of poor grooming? These activities can be a sign that they are not retaining old information and are having trouble processing new information. This is highly suggestive of cognitive decline.
Look at Their Calendar or Planner – Are they constantly rescheduling or missing appointments? Is there a proliferation of Post-it notes and written calendar reminders all over the home?
Check the Medication Supplies – Are prescriptions being renewed appropriately? Are there multiple supplies of pills? Are expired medications clogging up the medicine cabinet? Are there too many or too few pills in the bottles?
Check the Kitchen/Bathroom – Are you noticing any burned pots/pans in the kitchen from the stove being left on? Is the refrigerator being stocked appropriately? Is rotten food being stored there for long periods of time? Have there been any reports of floods from taps not being turned off?
Check pets – Are they looking hungry, disheveled or lethargic because they are not being cared for or exercised?
Check in with Trusted Friends/Neighbors – Has your loved one begun withdrawing from social activities? Do friends or neighbors have any input on how your loved one has recently been managing their affairs? Are they getting lost in the neighborhood?
Is it time to hire a caregiver – If you are seeing evidence that your elderly loved one is no longer coping well living alone, it may be time to consider hiring a caregiver. Even a few hours of care a few days a week can make a big difference in supporting them to stay safe and well in their own homes. For high caliber expertly matched caregivers consider Holistic HomeCare Associates as a trusted resource www.holistichomecareassociates.org
As you visit and start to notice things, avoid being overly intrusive in your efforts as this will put the senior on the defensive and less amenable to accepting support. Instead, show interest and curiosity and be nonjudgmental. Once you have gathered your information, reach out to trusted healthcare experts – your primary care practitioner, an aging life care professional www.aginglifecare.org or a local non-profit resource like Caring Kind www.CaringKindNYC.org about next steps.
With early targeted intervention, your observations and actions can help stave off more serious trouble for your loved ones down the road and help them lead happier, safer and more fulfilled lives as they age.