An article by the Mayo Clinic Staff gives insights on what to look for as warning signs of possible health problems when visiting aging parents. In many cases this may also be a single aging parent who has lost a spouse due to death or divorce.
Taking Care of Themselves
The main thing you want to learn when you visit aging parents is if they are able to take care of themselves and if they are taking measures to remain healthy. A warning sign could be if you see a change in appearance. If your mom or dad are not wearing clean clothes, if they seem to be missing bathing or grooming, this could be a warning sign of depression, dementia or physical problems like arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a Major Cause of Disability in Seniors
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis is a major cause of disability in seniors and it usually progresses with age. There is no cure for it and it is usually treated with anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs. People with osteoarthritis sometimes cannot climb into a bath tub without someone to help them. They cannot reach their toes to manicure their toe nails. Due to pain in their arms or hands and fingers they may not be able to easily shampoo their hair. They may not be able to close zippers on the back of their clothes or fasten a bra alone or open and close buttons. You might consider looking for clothes for them that make it easier for them to dress themselves that have fewer buttons, hooks and zippers. Look for clothes that fasten or zip in the front of the clothes rather than in the back. Also, rubbing Vaseline on zippers makes it easier to open and close them. A long-handled shoe horn can help them put on their shoes and a long handled reacher can help them to pick things up from the floor without having to bend down or take things off of shelves without having to climb on step-ladders.
Most people are treated with anti-inflammatory and pain-killing drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Unfortunately, NSAIDs have many dangerous side effects that can lead to liver, kidney and heart damage.
However, some people are helped by eating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage that have been scientifically shown to contain a substance called sulforaphane which helps to prevent the degeneration of cartilage in osteoarthritis. Also, many people find relief from pain by including a lot of extra virgin olive oil in their diets. Extra virgin olive oil contains a substance called oleocanthol which works against pain and inflammation in a similar way to ibuprofen, but without the dangerous side effects of ibuprofen. See our blog post from May 21, 2018 about extra virgin olive oil for preventing inflammation and chronic diseases.
Many seniors find relief from osteoarthritis with water therapy. This is usually the best kind of physical therapy for arthritis, as it is much easier to do exercises in water without experiencing pain. Others claim relief from pain with acupuncture.
See our blog post from May 10, 2019 about tips for treating osteoarthritis.
Loss of Weight
If your parents have lost weight, this could be a warning sign that they are not eating properly and may be suffering from malnutrition. Weight loss can also be from a loss of appetite due to depression, dementia or side-effects to some medicines. Loss of weight can also be a warning sign of cancer. At any rate, make sure they go to a doctor for a check-up.
Managing their Home
Another thing to look for is to check if your aging parents are able to manage their home like tidying up. Sometimes taking out the trash is too difficult because of physical problems like arthritis. However, if your parent is physically ok, but looks disheveled and the house is a mess these could be signs of dementia or depression. If pots are scorched it could mean your mom or dad are forgetting things that are cooking on the stove.
Make sure they are not finding it difficult to cook. Sometimes seniors, especially those living alone will just eat fast foods and junk foods. Arthritis can also make it difficult to lift pots on and off of the stove and to prepare food. Make sure they can read instructions on preparing food and are not having vision problems. Also, if someone is depressed they can lose interest in cooking or eating.
Sometimes seniors have experienced a loss in taste or smell and this can be from neurological conditions. One of the early signs in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease is a loss of the ability to smell things.
Safety Issues in the Home
Also, check for safety issues in the home. If going up and down the stairs is too difficult it may be time to move to an apartment or home without stairs. Make sure there are no things lying around that they could trip over. A pet can also sometimes cause seniors to fall by walking or running in front of them. Walking a dog on a leash can also be a difficult job for seniors with walking problems.
Check if your parents have suffered a fall in the home. Falls can also be a side effect to various drugs and medications that can cause dizziness and loss of balance. People with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease have high numbers of falls. See our blog post from March 26, 2018 about tips for preventing falls in seniors
Make sure there are grab bars installed on the wall next to the toilet, in the shower stall and for getting in and out of the bath tub. Make sure there are non-slip mats in the shower stall and bath tub.
Cane, Crutch or Walker
Sometimes it is time for your parents to use a cane or a walker to help them get around. A walker is usually better for preventing falls than a cane. The best cane or crutch is one that is attached to the arm as this seldom falls. A standard cane can fall and your mom or dad may not be able to easily bend down to pick it up.
Falls can also be from vision problems. See our blog post from May 15, 2019 about impaired vision and falls in seniors. Also vision problems can make it difficult for them to read labels on medicines and they might not take the correct medicine or the right dosage. Make sure your parents have had their yearly eye exam to rule out age-related vision problems.
Make sure there is adequate lighting. This also helps to prevent falls. If your parents claim the room is too dark, when in fact, it is brightly lit, this can be a sign of vision problems and sometimes neurological problems.
You must also check if your aging parents are experiencing memory loss. Occasionally misplacing things or forgetting things is not a red flag, but if your parents ask the same questions over and over and you keep giving them answers and then a minute later they again ask this is a warning sign of dementia. If they get lost in the neighborhood and have trouble following directions this is another serious sign of possible dementia.
Mood and Socialization
If you see a change in mood or your parent is not interested in socializing with friends or family members, keeping up with hobbies this could be a warning sign of depression or dementia. See our blog post from August 3, 2018 about depression and seniors. Sometimes a senior who has become incontinent will stop socializing or going out, but this can sometimes be helped by wearing disposable pads.
What to Do
Depending on the severity of their conditions you might want home care services for your parents and/or Meals on Wheels, assisted living or long-term skilled nursing care.
When there is a Need for Long-term Skilled Nursing Care
The day may come when your aging parents or parent is in need of long-term skilled nursing care. The Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation is a beautiful 5-star rehab and skilled nursing facility in Galloway Township, New Jersey. Royal Suites offers skilled nursing care at its best and also has a special memory impaired unit for people suffering from memory loss and dementia. See our blog post from May 29, 2018 about memory impaired care at Royal Suites.
It certainly helps to know what to look for when visiting aging parents to make sure they are healthy and able to manage taking care of themselves.