Living with chronic pain, the loss of close friends, financial issues and the simple act of getting older are factors that can contribute to your parents becoming more irritable, irrational or demanding. But there are some clear indicators that reveal if they may be jeopardizing their health and safety by living alone.
- Weight loss – Weight can drop dramatically when one is not eating well. Older adults are often more susceptible as they may have issues getting to the grocery store or simply don’t have the desire or energy to prep, cook and clean up – cooking for one can be very difficult, especially after the loss of a spouse. Such conditions can quickly lead to poor eating habits and malnutrition, which in turn weakens the immune system and increases the risk of developing other health concerns. Check their cupboards and refrigerator to see if they are stocked with nutritional food. If you notice a parent has lost significant weight, consider working with a nutritionist, helping your parent with grocery shopping and meal prep, or hiring a prepackaged meal delivery service.
- Poor hygiene – Forgetting to shower, neglecting grooming habits, wearing dirty clothes and avoiding other personal hygiene are often signs that a parent is struggling with cognitive decline, loneliness or depression. Checking in with daily calls, making a laundry schedule and planning events outside the home are all ways you can help. There are also homecare services that can help with daily grooming, toileting and light housekeeping.
- Messy home – A cluttered home poses safety risks and can even lead to health issues. Also check their mail – are there stacks of unpaid bills lying around? This could be a sign that cognitive decline is setting in. If this is a concern, elder-proof their home and consider hiring a cleaning service to check in on your parent and tidy up once a week.
- Vehicle damage – Give your parent’s car a look over. If you notice new scratches or dents, this could be a sign of failing eyesight or delayed reflexes. It may be time to reassess if it’s safe for them to continue driving and, if it’s not, contact family and friends to make a weekly schedule based on who is able to help.
- Jokes about getting lost – We all have our “got lost” stories, but if your parent repeatedly says they have had trouble finding their car in a parking lot or get disoriented while walking along familiar routes, this might indicate something more serious. Their laughing off such incidents may be a defense mechanism or simply denial. Talk to your parent about being evaluated by a medical professional who can diagnose and treat cognitive health issues.
- Low energy – While most everyone slows down as they age, a sudden or severe lack of energy could be a warning sign. If your parent appears run down or frequently complains they are tired and have no energy to do things, consider scheduling a doctor’s visit. Loneliness, depression, not taking routine medications properly or a newly acquired physical malady can contribute to exhaustion.
- More frequent falls – More than one out of four older adults fall each year, and it’s the leading cause of decline in the senior population’s health. There are many factors that can contribute to falling including lower body weakness, vision problems and vitamin deficiencies. As a serious fall can quickly turn an independent lifestyle to one that is immobile and requires extensive medical treatment, it pays to do a risk assessment. Clear your parent’s house of any unneeded clutter, tack down or remove any loose rugs, and encourage them to go for walks, attend an exercise class, maintain a healthy diet and get a good night’s sleep.
- A messy medicine cabinet – Are your parent’s medications in order or do you see a lot of bottles with lapsed expiration dates? Not taking medications regularly can obviously be detrimental to your parent’s health and can create a domino effect that results in more adverse physical and mental issues. Help organize their meds and set them up with a medication reminder – like digital smartphone apps – to help keep them on track. Make a list of all medications they are taking along with the correct dosages and keep this information handy so you can discuss it with their doctor.
If you detect one or more of these issues with your parent, set aside time to calmly discuss your concerns. Unless their safety is in immediate peril, rather than suggest any immediate action, it sometimes helps to let them think about what you’ve told them. Giving them time to process the information so that exploring next steps such as a doctor’s visit can go more smoothly.