When Brookdale President and CEO Cindy Baier visited her mom at home, she noticed her loss of independence. Baier spent her stays preparing meals, managing medications and cleaning. Living alone was becoming more of a problem and it was taking a toll on her mom.
“I talked on the phone to my mom several times a day, but it wasn’t until a holiday visit that I noticed how much assistance she needed,” said Baier. “It was more than my sister and I could provide from a distance. That’s when we decided to help her move into long-term care.”
Baier’s story isn’t unique. According to the Institute on Aging, nearly one-third of seniors live alone and their physical limitations and prevalence of depression are likely to increase with age. The AARP reports that nearly 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their home and “age in place”, even when they need assistance. It’s easy for parents to hide their day-to-day challenges over the phone or during quick visits, but the holiday season offers more time for you to see things as they are. This is a great opportunity to check in on whether your senior parents are struggling to complete their daily tasks, and to have a conversation about their long-term goals and care plans.
“There are many signs that provide clues to cognitive, physical, emotional and sensory changes in your loved one,” said Kim Estes Elliott, senior vice president of clinical services at Brookdale. “You just have to know what to look for.”
Elliott suggests looking for:
Physical changes, like poor hygiene, a lack of grooming, weight loss, poor balance, or bruises. Physical appearance can speak volumes as to whether your parents are taking care of themselves. Do you notice body odor, crumpled clothing or stubble on your father who was always clean shaven? Weight loss may indicate a poor diet or hint at a medical condition. Poor balance can lead to falls and bruising is a sign they aren’t steady on their feet.
Cognitive difficulties, like repeating themselves or asking the same thing over and over, challenges planning an activity, getting lost when driving to a familiar place, missing appointments, misplacing items, disorienting in stores, leaving the stove on, or not paying bills. Some memory loss is natural, like forgetting where their keys are or taking a few seconds to search for a word, but these other examples may indicate your parent is developing a more serious condition.
Habit changes, like no longer getting together with friends or participating in activities they enjoy. Research shows that friendships and a strong social circle have a dramatic impact on quality of life. Social isolation and loneliness can lead to depression.
Sensory changes, like a loss of vision, hearing, smell or taste. Some sensory changes are a normal part of aging, but others indicate underlying health issues. Hearing or vision loss can also impact social interactions and lead to loneliness or depression.
Other signs are in plain sight. Check the garage for fender benders or signs your parent is having trouble driving. In the kitchen, check to see if they are eating nutritious meals and if they are able to cook for themselves. Is their bedroom well-kept and odor free? Check to see if there are stacks of unopened mail or if bills are piling up. Look in the medicine cabinet to see what medications are prescribed, if they are managed properly or expired.
“If you notice any alarming changes in your loved one, take time to chat with them about it,” suggests Juliet Holt Klinger, senior director of dementia care. “These tips are about opening the lines of communication so you can partner with your parent for their care as they age.”
Holt Klinger suggests framing the conversation to put your parent in charge. The first question should be, “What are your long-term goals and how can I support them?” If your parent wants to stay in their house, but you noticed they are having issues keeping it clean, politely suggest hiring a cleaning service. If they are lonely, encourage outings or arrange for a weekly visitor. If they are interested in senior living, research places in the area and schedule tours.
“Always start with the positive. Acknowledge their wishes before making a suggestion,” said Holt Klinger.
Baier says her biggest mistake was not talking sooner with her mom about the issues she was having.
“Once we realized how much assistance my mom needed, we helped her move into long-term care. It helped me become my mother’s daughter again because I could relax knowing she was taken care of,” said Baier.
If you’re planning to visit your loved one this holiday season, download Brookdale’s checklist of signs and tips for starting conversations about long-term goals and care. While these signs and tips are important in gauging your parent’s well-being, don’t let it overshadow the holidays. Take time to be present and enjoy each other’s company.
To learn more about the services Brookdale provides, or to find a location near you, visit Brookdale.com.