Signs Your Aging Parent Needs Help

Thanksgiving is so close that we can almost smell the turkey and many of our middles are stirring with a strange mix of excited nostalgia and restless nerves. We can’t wait to see the nice china that only makes an appearance once a year and to throw around the football which, without the tradition, we may never make time for. However, we are also wondering what our Uncle Paul is going to say after his third eggnog and if mom is ever going to let go of the frozen turkey incident. For those of us with aging parents, one of our more important concerns is noticing differences in our loved ones when we visit. Perhaps they have a harder time remembering to turn the oven off, they are struggling with their mobility, or they keep calling baby Kate her mother’s name. And while some of us would like to write this off as “dad being dad” and tease him for new grey hairs, it is important that we pay close attention to the wellness of our loved ones when we see them during the holidays.

Here are some things to keep an eye out for when you are with them this holiday season:

Uncleanliness – if the home is increasingly cluttered or dirty, your parent could be having difficulty with their eyesight or their mobility or their motivation, among a number of other reasons. If things have gotten worse, it can cause problems such as falls and illness.

Spoiled groceries – Thanksgiving can be a tricky time to notice this problem because, most likely, the fridge has been cleaned out to make way for an abundance of leftovers. However, it is still important to look out for and it is easily missed. Spoiled groceries left in the fridge can be sign of depression or forgetfulness or even simply a decline in their sense of smell. Whatever the reason, it can pose a dangerous threat because it can make them sick and serve as a sign for something more ominous.

Unexplained bruising – keep a sharp eye out for arms and legs to make sure there aren’t any injuries like scrapes, cuts, burns or bruises. These could be signs of any number of things from problems with mobility, forgetfulness, or even elder abuse.

Late payments – if your parent will let you take a look at their mail and their finances – great. But, more often than not, there will be a little resistance – especially if a problem is brewing. Without outright snooping, ask your parent if you can take a look through their recent mail and check to see if there are any letters of missed payments or final notices. If you are genuinely concerned about their finances – offer to look over things every once in a while and make sure they know it is judgement-free.

Personal hygiene – admittedly, this can be a sensitive topic. These can all be sensitive topics, but this one has an added degree of embarrassment, so be aware of the way you approach it. Good hygiene is essential for your loved one’s wellness. Teeth, foot, skin, and general cleanliness must not be neglected. Additionally, sudden drops in hygiene could be a sign that something more serious is going on.

Unexplained dents or scratches in car – if your elderly parent is still driving, there may be cause for concern, not only for their safety, but for the safety of others on the road. Changes in eyesight or concentration can make for a very dangerous driver. Giving up the keys can be hard for most as it signifies a change in their independence. However, for their safety and everyone else’s, make sure to address your concerns and be ready to make a firm decision about the future of their driving, if needed.

Low energy/lack of interest –  a lack of interest in things that used to make them happy, an increase in hours spent in front of mindless TV, no motivation to see loved ones or get breakfast with friends like they used to can be signs of depression – a diagnosis that is growing exponentially among the elderly. This is a very serious concern and should be dealt with properly. Speak to their doctor about what can be done and keep in mind that “sadness” does not automatically equal depression and vice versa. Depression takes many forms and while we constantly insist on equating the two, people who are genuinely suffering and could receive help are being missed because they don’t fit the profile, so many associate with this diagnosis.

Keep a close eye out for all of these things while you are home enjoying the holiday and make note of anything that seems out of the ordinary. Consider your options to help your aging parent. Even if they are not ready for a change, now, things happen quickly and leave you scrambling at a very difficult time to figure out a safer situation for the ones you love. Look into options for in-home care or visiting nurses. Offer to attend their doctor’s appointments to gain better information and ensure they aren’t missed. Have a plan in place should they fall and injure themselves.

Also, keep in mind that if you are someone who sees your parents more than a sibling who lives further away, listen to what each other has to say. Sometimes, it is harder to see changes when you are there all the time to witness their evolution. A fresh pair of eyes can bring to light things that you may have missed. It is not your fault – it’s absolutely normal, but it important that everyone listen to each other and take things seriously so that your loved one can receive the best help.

How to Keep the Peace with Family Over the Holidays

We all want to enjoy ourselves over the holiday season. We all wish to put up our feet, throw down an eggnog, and appreciate good food and good company. However, for many of us “good company” is easier said than done. Feel-good family films that loop on television only make things worse by constantly showing us how things “should” be; the slightly-overbearing-but-only-out-of-the-goodness-of-her-own-warm-heart mother, the slightly-rough-around-the-edges-but-devoted- father, the adorably-devious-but-well-intentioned brother. You get the picture. The truth is usually never so viewer-friendly.

Here are a couple of great ways for you to keep the peace and enjoy time with the family:

Be Understanding – Yes, this one is painfully cheesy. It’s also much easier said than done and even though it can be a great first step and it sounds cliché – a lot of people don’t make a real effort towards it. Holidays and family gatherings are naturally stressful on everybody. It is a change in your routine, the weather, different obligations, and the whole thing is wreathed in expectation. Be kind. Be gentle. Be understanding.

Try Breathing – Another maddening cliché, sure. But this one has been proven to work. When you feel yourself beginning to get agitated or irritable or stressed or overwhelmed, try this simple trick: breathe in deeply for 4 seconds, hold this breath for 7 seconds, and release for 8 seconds. Try this three times in a row. The effects are immediate. You will begin to relax and things will seem easier to tackle than before.

What’s Important? – In the hubbub of gifts and activities and traditions and food, it can be hard to keep in mind the reasons we celebrate in the first place. The holidays are a time to enjoy ourselves whether it is with families, friends, or spent alone. They were not created with the intention of forced laughter and stress-eating. So, when you feel yourself start to lose it – keep in mind that if you are with family or friends it is because you love them. Forgive them for their flaws and remind yourself why you are happy they are in your life.

Take a Break – Loving your family doesn’t mean that you want to spend every second with them. That would be insanity. Taking a break to take a walk, do a little window shopping, or taking a ride to get yourself a coffee are little ways to break up the time and let go of any tensions beginning to rise.

Ask for What You Need – part of the reason that family gatherings become so saturated in stress is because many of us have a hard time confronting family (especially extended family) about the things that hurt or upset us. It takes courage to tell your Aunt that you didn’t like what she said about your sister, but it can be freeing. It can open pathways of communication and, yes, it can in some instances create more tension, but if you do it calmly and politely and without aggression, you can at least be proud of yourself that you were honest in advocating for yourself.

Keep Out the Controversies – So, I just told you to be honest and I meant it. But being honest about what you need from your loved ones and being aggressive about controversial topics are two different things. If you know that something is sensitive – don’t bring it up just cause you can’t chit chat about the weather again. Steer clear of things you think will put someone on the spot and for goodness sakes, don’t bring up the election – no matter what the discussion is bring positivity to the table and leave the accusations behind.

Normal Signs of Aging or Dementia?

One of the difficulties that we may face as we age is that the normal symptoms that accompany our senior years can be easily misinterpreted. Different routines, health concerns, and changes in medications can all work to change our behavior which can complicate diagnosing us correctly. Oftentimes, families sit on either sides of the spectrum – either fearing for the worst or ignoring signs under the impression that things haven’t changed drastically. The varying speeds at which changes in health and behavior occur can have an enormous impact on the way conditions are viewed and, ultimately, handled.

Dementia is the number one psycho degenerative illness facing older Americans and, yet, it can be hard to recognize as many of its symptoms resemble normal aging in so many respects. In order to diagnose and treat dementia properly, we must be aware of the differences between the two.

Normal Aging Dementia
Difficulty recalling details of an event a year or more ago Difficulty recalling details of an event a few days or weeks ago
Forgetting random events sporadically Continually missing appointments or routine meetings
Concern about their own memory loss Concern from family and friends about memory loss
Occasionally misplacing items such as keys Constantly losing important items
Takes a little extra time to remember directions Gets lost in familiar places
 

Occasional difficulty thinking of a word

Often has difficulty thinking of a word or frequently replacing words to navigate memory lapses
Unable to recall the name of someone they’ve met Unable to recall the names of family members and friends

 

If any of the signs in the right column are familiar to you or someone you know, make an appointment to speak to a doctor about these concerns. A doctor will be able to make a more accurate assessment and identify particular risk factors or safety concerns. They may ask you a number of questions pertaining to memory and wellness in order to better understand your situation.

Aside from aging and dementia, there are other factors that could be contributing to memory loss that are important to consider, as well. These include things like depression, dehydration, alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiency, etc. Make sure to be as thorough and honest as possible when meeting with a doctor and, if possible, bring a loved one with you. Having an extra pair of ears is always a good idea, especially if you are concerned you may miss something or be unable to remember it after the appointment.

A Few Unexpected Ways to Prevent Falls

Falls are a serious concern, especially among the elderly because injuries from a fall can be so much more severe. This issue has gotten more attention in recent years and you may have already heard some basic tips for preventing these accidents. Here are a few more ways to ensure that homes are safe and falls are prevented as much as possible:

Exercise – For some, this may seem counter-intuitive. Fear of falling sometimes stops us from being active. We try to remain stationary so that the likelihood of falling is limited. However, the right exercises are some of the best ways to prevent accidents. Remember to always start small and to never push yourself too much. Begin by holding onto a railing or table as you stand on one leg for 15 seconds before switching to the next. Next, try to stand on your tip toes for 15 seconds or keep both feet on the floor and bend your knees gently and hold for 15 seconds to strengthen your thighs. Work on increasing how many seconds you can hold these exercises.

Change your footwear – If your cold toes are still at the mercy of slippers, keep in mind that their name isn’t leading you astray. Soft shoes, slippers, and socks are dangerous because they don’t have the friction that is needed to prevent falls. Stick to shoes with lower heels and good grips to ensure your feet are firmly planted.

Clear pathways – Cluttered homes are a major contributing factor to the number of falls that happen each year. We all know how it happens – your mother just HAS to keep the 4 different sets of plates still in boxes that she got for a great deal, your father doesn’t want to make waves by telling your brother he needs to clean up his kid’s toys, cleaning is daunting and things always get in the way, these situations are really common. They are also the reason that falls happen, hips break, and people get sick. It can be a difficult task, but it’s an important one. Don’t be afraid to stand up to family to advocate for what needs to get done. Attend an organizational workshop if you think it will help. Encourage your loved ones to keep spaces clear for their own safety.

Use carpet runners – Once pathways have been cleared and things are more organized, it might be time to invest in some carpet runners. They will add traction to high-traffic areas of the home so that moving from place to place is safer. They are great for hardwood or tiled areas that can be slippery. However, they can also increase the traction of a carpeted area depending on the type you get. If you are adding them to a slick surface like hardwood or tile, don’t forget to secure them with rug grippers so that they don’t slide around.

Invest in lighting – Lighting can be an enormous help when making a home safer for someone who is a fall risk. Well-lit areas are easier to move about and can help those with vision impairments. Consider using motion-sensors so that no one has to worry about finding a switch in the dark. One easy change is to always keep a flashlight near the bed to make things easier in the middle of the night.

Use cordless phone – Upgrade from the old-fashioned phones with a cord to something that is more portable. Phones with a clip are great to keep on someone’s person in case of emergency so that it is easily accessible. However, keep in mind that if someone is transitioning from a corded phone to a cordless phone – they may forget that the handsets need to charge. It may be best to keep one corded phone in the house in case the handset’s batteries die accidentally.

Install handles – Most people think of the bathroom when they consider installing handles and it’s a great place to do so – particularly by the toilet or in the shower. However, get creative when it comes to placement. Handles can run along the length of a hallway or by the front door or beside a favorite chair to help someone lower themselves into it. Pay attention to the most appropriate spots and consider options that don’t immediately spring to mind.

Use a caregiver – Having a caregiver come into the home to help with bathing, dressing, transportation, running errands, and companionship, among other tasks, can seriously decrease the likelihood of a fall. The assistance will help with stability and the supervision will ensure that any accidents are immediately reported and taken care of so that situations aren’t made worse. There are some government programs that provide caregiver services and additional options for those who do not qualify. To learn more, click the link below.

Talk to your doctor – The best defense against falls is usually by talking to your doctor. Sharing your medical history and the current medications you’re on can help them determine whether or not you are a fall risk and they can provide you with information on how to prevent them, as well. Be sure to keep up with regular eye and hearing exams, as problems in these areas can lead to falls.

 

assessment

Choosing a Medical Alert System

The number of services offering medical alert systems has grown increasingly over the years. With more options than ever, it is important that you and your family know what to look for when selecting the right one for you.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when choosing a medical alert system:

Cost – Some systems are leased, some are bought. Make sure that you pay close attention to hidden costs. Avoid systems with upfront costs. The prices for the equipment and the service should all be included in the monthly cost. Make sure to ask about false alarm costs, as well, in case your loved one were to press the button accidently.

Contract – Payment can be based on a number of things depending on the system you choose. It is recommended that you never enter into a contract with a company. Month-to-month payments will allow for better flexibility should you need to cancel.

Monitoring – Consider what level of monitoring you want and need. Many alert systems offer a button to push in case of emergency. However, some systems extend their support by offering things like “fall detection” or being able to notify emergency services when fire or carbon monoxide are present. Some systems are even able to offer you constant monitoring of your loved one’s health through video, or apps. Some are even able to send health information directly to their primary doctor.

Availability – Before choosing a system, make sure that their monitoring center is open 24/7. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are systems out there that do not comply to this. You will want to make sure that the alert system is operational at all hours in case of emergency.

Mobility – Some alert systems are designed specifically for the home. These systems are for people that don’t leave their house very often. Other systems offer a mobility feature operated through a GPS system which allows your loved one to be monitored even if they are out and about. Consider which one is more appropriate.

Preferences – Every alert system offers different ways to access it. Commonly, they offer a button to wear around the neck. However, many people do not like this. They feel uncomfortable. They can get in the way and the buttons are not subtle. If your loved one wants something a little more discreet, consider a bracelet, belt buckle, or strategically places buttons in the home.

Consider all of these different variables when selecting a system and never hesitate to ask questions. Shop around a bit before making a decision since there are a number of differences between the different services to ensure that you and your loved one is getting exactly what is needed.

How to Handle Difficult Situations with Dementia Patients

For those of us who have cared for or loved someone with dementia, we know how frustrating and painful it can be for everyone. Oftentimes, the responses that feel so natural to us can only make things more difficult when interacting with people who suffer from dementia. How do we navigate situations with dementia patients when we cannot understand their reactions or the things they truly need? Below are some common problems that may arise and how to handle them correctly.

Problem: Your loved one has moments where they become verbally or physically aggressive.

What’s really happening – When someone with dementia is acting aggressively, it could be the result of a number of things. Perhaps they are in physical pain you are not aware off, perhaps they are hungry, or tired, or emotional because they are confused and don’t feel normal or comfortable. Whatever the reason, it is an inappropriate response to something deeper and we have all dealt with it before.

Solution: Try to identify the cause. Ask them if they are in any pain or if they would like to rest. Never engage with them in their aggressive behavior – it will only escalate the situation. Speak calmly and thoughtfully and pay close attention to what would calm them down. If they are safe to be alone, leave the room for 5-10 minutes to give them a little space and calm down.

Problem: You start to notice them making poor decisions that are out of character.

What’s really happening – Dementia can have an impact on the parts of the brain that we use to make good decisions. One of the worst ways this impact can manifest is in financial decisions. People who suffer from dementia often have trouble keeping track of bills or keeping their money organized which causes enormous problems, but is difficult to recognize for families that aren’t involved in their loved one’s finances.

Solution: Digging deeper into these kinds of concerns can be met with resistance. They can be embarrassed or defensive about the struggles they are facing. If there are problems with their accounts, approach the matter gently by asking if the bank made a mistake. Keep judgment out of the conversation and make sure that you do not express your own stress and fear as it can strongly influence them.

Problem: They have started hoarding

What’s really happening – Just like the deterioration that leads to problems with finances, dementia can also cause someone to begin hoarding which can lead to an unsafe environment. It may seem simple at first, but it can build quickly and make it hard to keep a clean house or even move about.

Solution: Keep a close eye on their home to make sure it isn’t becoming an unsafe place. Ask them if they need the things they are choosing to hold onto and discuss a way to limit the excess in a calm, supportive, and encouraging conversation.

Problem: They keep asking to go home.

What’s really happening – People who suffer from dementia are often extremely frustrated by their own confusion. Many times, they desire to return to something that feels normal because it comforts them and makes them feel like they have control. The idea of “home” becomes a secure base for them to fall back on for comfort.

Solution: Sometimes, when people become confused the best thing to do is redirect the situation before it escalates. Instead of repeatedly telling them they are home, which may confuse them more, ask questions about their home – how long have they lived there, what they like about their home, etc. Show them pictures or ask them to take a walk with you. Anything that diverts their attention may diffuse the situation.

If they are in a facility and they keep asking to return home, a therapeutic lie can be a kind way to deescalate the situation. Instead of reminding them that this is their new home, which may upset them, tell them that there is bad construction on the way home or a blizzard is coming.

Problem: Your loved one is repeatedly doing unsafe or inappropriate things you’ve talked to them about.

What’s really happening – When someone with dementia does something unsafe or inappropriate, such as accidentally leaving food on the stove, it is normal to remind them not to, to be more careful, or to explain why it is dangerous. We approach the situation as if they were children and we are teaching them. However, the obvious difference is that they are not children and the reason these behaviors are taking place in the first place is because they have difficulty processing the thoughts they had been taught to prevent these things from happening.

Solution: Asking someone with dementia to remember to stop doing a certain behavior can be fruitless. Instead, consider outside solutions. Hire a caregiver to prep meals for them and keep them safe, make the home safer by removing dangerous and unnecessary components, or ask family to stop in for a couple of hours each day to visit and keep an eye on them.

Problem: Their doctor doesn’t seem to have the right idea.

What’s really happening – One of the things that makes dementia so difficult to manage is that it can look different from moment to moment.  When someone with dementia visits their doctor, their doctor may not be aware that just yesterday their patient was confused and crying because they didn’t know where they were. It can be difficult to treat them properly when their mental state can be so varied

Solution: Make an effort to go to doctor’s appointments with them. Speak plainly to the doctor and be as clear as possible. Never hide information you think will embarrass or upset the person you love. You may ask to speak to doctors privately if you don’t want to say certain things in front of them, but you never know what bit of information will help doctors do their job more efficiently.

Problem: They are always contradicting themselves

What’s really happening – It has been really hard to make them happy or give them what they want because they are constantly forgetting or changing their minds. They can forget minute by minute – which means that they can become confused and angry when you don’t expect it.

Solution: Instead of giving them so many options, it can be easier on you and them to tell instead of ask. Telling them that it is time to go or time to use the toilet or time to take a bath and being firm can implement more structure and lessen the possibility for arguments and bargaining.

It can be extremely difficult to handle these kinds of situations calmly and coolly day after day. For the sake of your own mental health and general wellness, never hesitate to ask for help when you need it. Take time for yourself, when you can, to relax and do something you enjoy. Self-care is just as important as the care we give others. It will be hard to be a good caregiver if we, ourselves are not taken care of.

Tips for Beating the Cold

Whether you are ready for it or not, winter is coming and with it comes some brutal weather. Any New Englander knows how to handle their business when it comes to the cold – or so we think. However, there are some things you may not have considered, or, at least ones you may have forgotten.

Dress in layers – so, this one sounds pretty basic. However, while cranking the heat and lounging in a t-shirt can be tempting, reminding yourself to dress in layers can prevent you from resorting to the thermostat – keeping you warmer and saving you money.

Wear a hat – yes, there was a time when wearing a hat indoors was considered bad taste. However, thankfully, the times have changed. We lose an enormous amount of heat through our heads and the delicate parts of us like our ears are often (excuse the pun) left out in the cold. Wearing a hat can be a huge help.

Check your heating system regularly – sometimes problems can sneak up on you and your home’s heating system is not a place you want any surprises. Make sure that everything is in working order and consistently check that the levels of your heating source (oil, wood, pellets) are sufficient.

Turn off exterior taps – this is an important measure many people forget, but can ultimately save you time, money, and a massive headache by preventing frozen pipes.

Reverse your ceiling fan – another method people don’t usually consider, reversing your ceiling fan will help you pull up cold air and push down the warm air that has risen to your ceiling.

Create a power-outage kit – emergency situations are not a time you should be scrambling. Put together a just-in-case kit with water, flashlights, batteries, matches, low-maintenance snacks, a deck of cards, and anything else you may need in case of a power outage.

Use draft stoppers – this may seem like a simple solution – and it is, but impactful, too. You can even make them yourself with a bit of material, a needle and thread, and some sand. Lay them across the bottom of your doors to keep cold air from seeping through.

Reduce Drinking – it may feel as though alcohol warms your body as you drink it. However, that warmth you feel in your stomach is actually a sign that you are losing heat. Warm yourself up with a tea or a hot chocolate and keep away from the booze.

Soak up natural sunlight – as the days grow shorter and the sun starts to feel a little like an old friend we should really make more time for, we’ll start to recognize that there’s some truth behind this feeling. Winter makes it harder to get the vitamin d we need. Set aside some time during the week to bundle up if you need to and sit or walk outside so you can get some real natural sunlight time.

Moisturize – the colder season means the dryer season. It can be easy to forget about moisturizing. However, dry skin is not just uncomfortable, it can also cause cracking and open sores that could become infected. Drink lots of water. Always use a natural moisturizer and opt away from heavily scented ones. Keep lip balm nearby you at all times and be wary! Some of the brands actually contain chemicals that make your lips peal.

Exercise – one of the best (and cheapest) ways to warm yourself is to simply start moving. You’d be surprised how little movement it takes to warm up and a little extra heat is only one of the many benefits.

Domestic Violence Among the Elderly

Domestic violence is a very serious issue and it is prevalent among people that some may not always consider. Not only is it relevant among senior citizens, but it may be especially difficult to recognize than among others. Perhaps, it presents itself in ways that are, mistakenly, considered endearing such as excessive bickering. Maybe it has been going on for so long because it has been hidden so well. Maybe control and dominance is easily disguised because it is written-off as the help a victim needs in their old age. Whatever the reason, it is a real thing among the elderly and deserves just as much attention as any other demographic.

Although signs of abuse are sometimes present from the onset of a relationship, some abuse does not surface in a relationship for years, making it harder to confront and deal with. Some victims feel trapped because it didn’t start until after they were married, or even years after that. Abuse that starts late can also be easier to ignore because there may be a deeper bond between partners by the time it begins and it is difficult to imagine it is really happening. Domestic violence among the elderly can become an especially serious problem because the victim is not as physically or mentally able to stand up to it. Furthermore, as education and understanding is more widespread nowadays through platforms like social media, an older person may not have the same resources to understand what they are doing or what is being done to them.

Abusive behaviors include, but are not limited to:

Control (how the other person spends their time, people they see, how they spend money, etc.)

Humiliation (embarrassing the other person or sharing personal information with others)

Neglect (intentionally failing to help with the care needs of the other person)

Blame (accusing the other person of things out of their control)

Physical Abuse (striking, slapping, kicking, etc.)

In the fight to end domestic violence, it is important to assess, not only whether you may be a victim, but whether you may be a perpetrator, as well. Too often is crime dehumanized and the emphasis of a problem is placed upon victims. Be certain that you are not exhibiting any of these abusive behaviors to others. Pay attention, not only to the people you know who may be victims of domestic violence, but those who might be abusers.

Some experts are hesitant to make the distinction between domestic violence and elder abuse. Because domestic violence among senior citizens can be categorized as “elder abuse”, they believe that the two should be viewed as one-in-the-same and be dealt with in the same manner.

However, there are opponents to this thinking. Some believe that both “domestic violence” and “elder abuse” deserve to be viewed separately and to group any type of abuse among senior citizens under the umbrella of “elder abuse” is not only ageist, but dangerous because this thinking may disempower the reality of the differences between them. Different types of abuse such as domestic, sexual, economic, emotional, etc. can have vastly different sources and by treating them all the same based solely on the age of the person discredits the individualism they deserve in order to deal with them properly.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. There are many fantastic and important resources online to learn more about the realities behind domestic violence and the actions you can take if you or someone you know may be a perpetrator or a victim of this horrible crime. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 1(800)-799-SAFE.