Independence Is Important, but…

Many caregivers, especially long-distance caregivers, wonder when it is time to intervene with their loved ones who live independently. It is an unfair progression that we spend most of parenting teaching children independence and then lose that independence bit by bit as an older adult. So naturally adult children find it most difficult to bridge the gap in helping a parent determine the time they may need additional help.

During summertime and around the holidays, we often make time to visit and spend more time with our family as our schedules allow. So when you are visiting your loved one, how do you know if what you are seeing is decline versus normal aging? There are a few specific warning signs that you can look for during these visits.

Physical Changes- Begin to take note of your loved ones appearance upon your arrival and during your visit. Is there any noticeable weight loss or gain? How is their mobility, specifically walking/gait, as they move from room to room? Are they continuing to keep up with personal hygiene? If any of these seem to have changed since your last visit, it will be important to begin discussing any changes with a primary physician at some point. Ideally, this doctor specializes in geriatrics (medical conditions that affect older adults).

Household Changes- If you feel comfortable, take a peak in the fridge and cabinets in the kitchen. Is there no food or old food? What about expiration dates? Is the house clean? Take a look at the car for dents or fender-benders. These signs can help you see how your loved one is managing at home alone and determine if additional support or care is needed.

Forgetfulness- While it is normal to forget our keys once in a while or lose our glasses at any age, a consistent pattern of forgetting important events may be cause for concern. Some examples may be special dates, names of family members or close friends, and normal tasks that your loved one performs or has performed daily. It may be a concern of dementia, a specific illness (some infections and chronic diseases can have the symptom of forgetfulness) or increased general decline. It is best to seek professional help for this concern as well, beginning with your loved one’s physician.

With any of these warning signs, it is important to seek help as soon as you have a concern. Our counselors are ready to discuss and assist you in caring for your loved one if you need to explore them further.

For additional information about concerns related to your older relative, contact your Eldercare Information & Referral Program at 1-800-253-9236.

Written by

Laura Enslen has a bachelor’s degree from Elizabethtown College in social work and a masters degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice. Laura is a licensed social worker and has experience providing care to older adults in their homes through her work as a hospice social worker in Baltimore, MD. She has helped clients and families cope with long term planning concerns, a new terminal diagnosis, and caregiving issues. Prior to her hospice experience, Laura worked in the hospital setting in Philadelphia, PA and Baltimore, MD where she helped patients and families navigate the labyrinth of health care services and plan for discharge from the hospital. Laura is also trained in guiding clients through relaxation with breathing techniques and guided imagery.

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