When my father came to live with me almost 4 years ago, I thought he was completely self-sufficient and would just be sharing a residence with me. Little did I know how much care he actually needed.

Looking back, I should have seen the signs – they were there; I just neglected to process them well.

For instance, when he visited me, he often brought a travel mug of coffee with him. As he continued drinking it throughout the morning, I asked him if he wouldn’t want some hot, fresh coffee. “No”, he replied “I’m used to drinking cold coffee” – this from a man of Swedish/Canadian decent, who always loved good coffee. As I questioned him further, I found that he didn’t know how to use the coffee maker and so only drank coffee if there happened to be some in the pot. Since he was living with my sister at that time, I assumed that she must have had some fancy espresso machine or something similar. I was wrong.

Another clue should have been his weight loss. He chalked it up to the stress of living with my sister and her four kids. In reality, he didn’t know how to prepare meals for himself when she was unavailable and so just didn’t eat.

When considering whether or not your loved-one needs extra help, look carefully at some of the following signs.

  • Are his or her clothes clean and well-kept. Has he forgotten to add a belt; has she forgotten to change out of her slippers and passes it off as “being comfortable” or is wearing the same outfit over and over again?
  • Does your parent or loved one show signs of deteriorating hygiene such as body odor, bad breath, unkempt hair?
  • Is his/her home as tidy as it should be ? Of course, as seniors age, their surroundings won’t be as neat as they once were, but should still be clean. One woman I know was surprised to find tiny cockroaches scurrying to the corners when she opened her mother’s pantry. Her mother had formerly been what she called a “neat freak”. Changes in behavior are what matter most.Speaking of pantrys, check the cupboards to see if there is a good supply of nutritional food items. You might also check the trash to see if any of them are being used. Look in the refrigerator and note the expiration dates on perishable food items. I once found a package of cold cuts that had expired 2 months previous.
  • Are the bills being paid? This is a difficult one because parents rarely wish to discuss their finances and may require some detective work. One clue: if there are stacks of unopened envelopes on the desk, especially ones marked “overdue”, this might be a concern. If available, glance through the checkbook.
  • Is your parent becoming socially isolated? Has he/she attending church less frequently, avoiding social situations with excuses of fatigue or “other plans”? You parent may be fearful of driving or even fearful of being in a uncomfortable situation. Early dementia patients are especially prone to fears of socialization. Does she seem sad, anxious, confused ?
  • Are medications being taken correctly? This, too, is difficult to ascertain without some effort. Encourage the use of a compartmentalized medication container and then check to see if they are being taken each day at the correct times. I had thought my father had a good handle on his meds because he could tell me the name of each pill and what it was for but when I looked carefully, the medications were not always correctly placed and on some days, the meds were not taken at all !
  • Is there evidence of your parent falling prey to a phone or mail scam ? My friend, Mindy, upon noticing her mother had numerous silver (colored) chains with crosses on them, commented to her mother on them. “O, they keep sending me those and I send them money, and they send more. Isn’t that nice??” My own father bought a roll of “uncirculated, soon-to-be-retired” nickels for $250.00. They were not what they were advertised to be. (And he did this WHILE living with me on a day that I was working.)
  • Lastly, are there bruises on his/her body. Some medications, like Coumadin or other blood thinners can cause some bruising, but bruising can also be a sign of falls. Elders will often make excuses such as “O, I was working in the garden” and not admit to the falls.

It’s estimated that more than ten million senior citizens require some level of help in their daily living, ranging from simple chores to more complex caretaking.

I hope this might aid you in deciding if and how much help your parent or loved one might need.


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