Visiting Elderly – Be Vigilant. Use Your Senses.
The following is reprinted from my Huffington Post contribution of 11/15/16. Be alert when visiting elderly this season.
Elder care is a growing issue in society. Caregiving at a distance can be difficult, stressful and time-consuming. And often the only time caregivers see the loved one is on a family visit, more than not tied around a holiday. It is very noticeable when something is awry when visits are infrequent. This holiday season be aware of your older loved one’s physical and mental capacity and take notice of their environment. Whether visiting someone in senior care centers or at home, here are some tips to help.
Where do you start when visiting elderly?
First use your senses. Observe with your eyes, ears, and with your senses of taste, touch and smell. Look at the house/apartment. Is it being kept up? Is the environment unsafe, unsanitary? Track the chores you do while there as they could point to services your loved one needs after you leave. Is there any thing obviously missing or large-scale new purchases? This could indicate some type of exploitation/abuse by others.
How can you tell if a loved one has been abused?
As a healthcare conference speaker, I often need to remind my audience members of their responsibility in the community. And watching out for abuse of elders is one such responsibility.
There are different types of abuse, some initiated by others and those of self-neglect. Again use your senses. Observe physical or sexual abuse — bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, and rope marks.
Is there a new best friend around? Does a home care worker refuse to allow you to see your loved one alone?
Emotional abuse — is a loved one being emotionally upset or agitated; being extremely withdrawn and non communicative or self report being verbally or emotionally mistreated? These are signs that something is up.
Is mom or dad just slowing down or is there more going on?
It could be natural old age setting in or there could be signs of bigger health issues going on. Has there been excessive weight gain, weight loss, decline in general hygiene? How is their strength and balance? Does it prevent them from doing things? Will they accept help, say when you go to a mall and offer to get a wheelchair? Check for dehydration or undernourishment. Are your parents eating nutritious meals regularly? Are they able to prepare meals?
Are they wearing inappropriate clothes? Is their clothing inadequate? Check that they have all of their medical aids — eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures.
Look for signs of declining memory. Are loved ones placing items in wrong places, missing appointments? Are they forgetful?
Check expiration dates on medications. Are loved ones forgetting to take medications? Can they afford their medications? Has the number of prescriptions increased significantly?
Signs of Financial Stress
Unopened mail could indicate memory problems, vision problems, or hint at financial problems. Sweepstakes circulars could indicate they or someone is responding to offers. Are there overdue bills? Are bill collectors calling or showing up at the house?
Check for any changes in the loved ones bank account. Check for any additional names on a bank signature card. Check their bank statements. Is there unauthorized withdrawal of funds?
What Do I Do If They Need Care?
First, there is a delicate art on how to communicate with an elder loved one. You want to enjoy the time you have with them and ease into the conversation. Gather information on community services that can meet their needs. Take notes of services, fees, waiting lists. Use the government’s ElderCare Locator to find services.
Schedule a visit with your elder’s physician during the time you are there. Identify a social support system for your loved one. This includes people they can call on such as friends, neighbors, clergy, and others in regular contact. Meet these people while you are there.
Even if loved ones are fine, advance planning can help you to avoid a crisis in the future. Take a medication inventory. Document the names of physicians. Make sure they have a living will and durable power of attorney. Know where to find their financial information.
Enjoy your time with an elderly parent, relative or friend this season but be watchful of their needs. They will not let on or ask for help. So be a good observer, listener, and friend.