The festive season has well and truly arrived. While COVID-19 might mean that our celebrations are a little bit different this year, for the most part it is still the time of year when many of us will be spending time with family, getting together with loved ones we may not often see, and visiting family members that may live alone.
For older people, it is often small changes and minor problems that can be early warning signs of a potentially serious health issue. So, this Christmas we are urging families to get together safely – not just for the good food and company – but to keep an eye out for subtle signs that may indicate an elderly loved one is not coping well at home.
Sign 1. An empty fridge and pantry
Take a quick glance over your loved one’s kitchen. Do they have access to wholesome and nutritious food? Are the cupboards stocked as they normally are? If not, grocery shopping may be getting more difficult for your loved one. Perhaps they do not have transport options available to them, or they do not feel confident getting to the shops, manoeuvring through the aisles and carrying grocery items due to limited mobility or cognitive problems.
Sign 2. Loose summer clothing
Has your older loved one lost weight without trying? Are they enjoying their Christmas food or do they seem uninterested? For doctors, unintentional weight loss is a major red flag as it is often accompanied by malnutrition. If your loved one has lost a noticeable amount of weight, there may be underlying health problems which need to be diagnosed and managed, or it may be a sign that they need more support with daily life.
Weight loss can also be caused by issues such as difficulty or pain with chewing and swallowing, forgetting to eat, having difficulty organising meal preparation or lacking the motivation to cook due to living and eating alone. It should be noted that a general rule of thumb is that unintentionally losing 5 per cent of one’s original body weight over 3-6 months is cause for concern.
Sign 3. Poor personal hygiene
Your loved one was always the sharpest looking person at the Christmas gathering. However, this time around you have noticed things aren’t quite right. Suddenly, it looks like they have stopped looking after themselves. This may be an indication of a health problem or simply a lack of interest in their appearance and surroundings. Changes in personal grooming habits can also be caused by memory trouble or physical ailments.
Sign 4. No visits from friends and family
Is your loved one getting out and about as often as they used to? Are they maintaining contact with friends and family? Older people are at risk of social isolation for many reasons including illness, injury, loss of driving ability, loss of mobility, lack of confidence or bereavement. Healthy relationships with family and friends have intangible benefits on health and should not be disregarded.
Sign 5. A messy home
Look around your loved one’s home. Are they keeping it as orderly and clean as they used to? Have you noticed piles of clutter and other signs that housekeeping is more relaxed than it once was? Your loved one may be experiencing physical limitations, or perhaps housekeeping now depletes energy that your loved one feels they cannot afford to expend. As clutter and mess builds, so too does the risk of falls.
Sign 6. A pile of unopened mail
Did your Christmas card go unopened this year? A pile of unopened mail may indicate that your loved one is having trouble managing their finances and personal affairs. They could be forgetting what to pay or when to pay a bill, or perhaps this task was the responsibility of a spouse who has passed away. Without intervention, this can lead to overdue bills, insurance being cut off, utilities being stopped and other creditor issues. You can help by offering to do the bill paying, arranging direct debits or otherwise assisting your older loved one to manage their bills.
Sign 7. Forgotten lunch plans
You planned the lunch weeks in advance and even reminded them a few days before but your loved one didn’t show. Though social appointments can always be rescheduled, a couple of missed doctor’s appointments could have serious consequences later on such as an undetected health issue not receiving timely care and attention. If your loved one is missing social or personal appointments, it may indicate issues regarding memory or lack of transport options. On the other hand, he or she may be hesitant to attend appointments if they are experiencing a decline in their health. This is usually due to shame or fear of losing their independence.
Sign 8. A mysterious car dent
Your loved one has rolled up to your Christmas gathering, and you notice a large dent in their car. When you ask about it, they say they aren’t quite sure how it got there. It may be a sign that your loved one is starting to have trouble driving. With ageing can come a number of issues that significantly affect one’s ability to drive safely. These issues include diminished muscle strength, decreased vision, impaired hearing and slower motor reflexes. It is likely that your loved one is hesitant to discuss these issues with you for fear of losing their license and independence, however it’s important to have the conversation if you are concerned.
Sign 9. Broken bathroom fixtures
You’ve visited the bathroom at your loved one’s home and noticed some broken bathroom fixtures. For your older loved one, the bathroom presents the most risk factors associated with falls. Torn shower curtains, loose towel bars and broken windowsills could indicate that they are relying on these items for support. If you notice these signs, take steps to improve safety in and around your loved one’s home. This may include installing grab rails, fitting non-slip flooring and encouraging your loved one to consider shower aids (i.e. a shower chair).
Sign 10. Your intuition
You know your loved one best, so don’t discredit your instincts. If you are worried about the health, safety and independence of your loved one at home, it is likely there is good reason. Open and honest communication is key, so spend this time with your family to share your concerns.
If you have a loved one in need of in-home care services such as carer-assisted transport, meal preparation, housekeeping or personal care, contact your local My Care Solution office and book a free care consultation. We are open and providing assistance 24/7 this Christmas, so we are here whenever you may need us.