Age can diminish cognitive skills, impose limits on the ability to lead a full life – and spark some potentially awkward conversations between children and their parents. The day you decide to tell your elders that you think they no longer should live alone can feel like a disorienting role reversal. Before you take on The Talk 2.0, analyze your observations of your elder and validate that they add up to a problematic pattern, not just a momentary change in behavior.
I want a new drug
Medication schedules help ensure that the right level of a pharmaceutical stays in the bloodstream to provide proper results. If the first thing you see when you visit your loved one is a stack of unopened prescription bottles, or it’s obvious that they’re not taking full daily doses, that’s cause for concern. Ask diplomatically if they’re having problems with their medications. It’s easy to deal with child-safe caps that a pharmacy inadvertently included with a set of refills, but if the problem lies in an inability to remember to take medications, that’s a different story.
Help me, I’m falling
Loss of balance, dizziness from medication side effects, tripping hazards such as furniture in the way or bunched-up rugs: Any of these problems can trigger falls, and older bones don’t tolerate taking a tumble. Besides the risk of fractures, there’s the additional concern over falling, being unable to get up, and sustaining harm as a result of lying immobile. If addressing potential medication interactions, removing hazards, and implementing medical equipment such as a cane or walker doesn’t resolve the situation, your loved one’s situation may need to change.
Hope you’re feeling better
When elders develop new medical conditions, show limited ability to rebound from illness or injury, or appear newly frail, family and friends feel rightful concern. Recovery from simple illness such as a cold or respiratory infection can become more difficult with advancing age, and hospital stays can be challenging for anyone, let alone for older adults. It’s critical to take little challenges to good health seriously and do what’s necessary to counter them.
For the love of money
Have you noticed a disturbing pattern in your loved one’s bills, as in they’re paid late, erratically, or not at all? Conversely, do you notice a dramatic change in spending patterns, with large or frequent expenditures on things that don’t line up with their interests, beliefs, and charitable pursuits? All of these things can be signs of mental confusion, which could point to cognitive decline or something as simple as a medication reaction. Check in to find out what’s going on.
All by myself
Not everyone’s a social butterfly at any age, and as circles of kinship and acquaintance shrink through loss, elders can become less inclined to engage in social events. If you notice a pattern of overall withdrawal, isolation, and even reclusiveness, especially in a loved one who’s always welcomed contact with family members and friends, that could be a sign of problems that warrant further investigation.
The way you look tonight
After retirement, many people quickly tire of the coat-and-tie level of dress up that characterized their working years. Some gradually adopt more-casual standards of dress; others maintain their old habits for a while until they finally decide to step away from them. But if an elder appears to neglect basic hygiene, or suddenly looks really different, that could correlate with mental confusion, physical discomfort from arthritis or some other condition, or the development of a new medical problem.
Elders who start missing appointments, showing up too late or on the wrong day – especially those who’ve always been punctual and timely – may be demonstrating confusion that interferes with their abilities for proper self care. Sure, everyone forgets once in a while, but it’s the pattern of occurrences that signals cause for concern.
You’ve got to have friends
The inability to perceive one’s own diminished mental function forms one of the many devastating aspects of dementia. “I’m fine,” your elder may say, even if you’re seeing signs that that’s not the case. If you begin hearing expressions of concern from your elder’s friends, however, and what they say lines up with symptoms you’re starting to perceive yourself, that’s a big red flag.
Sing a simple song
Regardless of where your conclusions take you, remember one fundamental aspect of this situation before you attempt to persuade your elder to move in with you or vice versa, accept home health care, look for an assisted-living arrangement, or opt for some departure from the status quo. Even if they’re not safe living alone, they’re not children, and they’re likely to take immediate offense to a cajoling tone that sounds like talking a two-year-old into trying broccoli. Respect their age, and think about how you might feel if someone delivered this message to you.
Do you have questions about an aging parent, family member or friend? We can help. Contact Hancock Internal Medicine at (317) 462-5544.