The holidays are a time when adult children and long distance caregivers travel home to celebrate the season with older loved ones. It provides many families with an opportunity to see firsthand how the family elders are managing.
One question the teams at HarborChase Senior Care Communities often receive this time of year is this: how will I know when my family member needs help?
This is especially difficult when an adult child suspects their parent has dementia.
We created this guide to help adult children and other concerned family members identify the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and the general warning signs that indicate a senior might need help.
Is a Senior Loved One in the Early Stages of Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. One in eight older Americans receives this diagnosis at some point in their lives.
While there are some definitive warning signs, the earliest symptoms of the disease might be easy to overlook or excuse away. Here are a few warning flags to look for:
- Trouble retaining new information
Short-term memory is typically impacted early with Alzheimer’s. Your loved one might struggle to maintain their calendar and miss scheduled appointments. They may also struggle to carry on a conversation because they can’t remember what you said last.
- Misplacing things
When you are home visiting for the holidays, be mindful of where you find your loved one’s possessions. Were your dad’s keys in the freezer? Or was your mom’s purse in the refrigerator? Placing belongings in odd locations on a consistent basis can be a red flag for Alzheimer’s.
- Problems finding the right words
Seniors with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease often struggle to find the right words for common objects. They also call things by the wrong name. For example, they might point to the cat and call it a bird or call the kitchen sink a refrigerator. Oftentimes they do so without even realizing their mistake.
- Mismanaging finances
Poor judgment with financial matters is a hallmark of early Alzheimer’s disease. It is the reason so many seniors in the early stages of the disease fall victim to identify theft or some form of fraud.
Seniors with early dementia may also have a difficult time managing household finances. They might pay one bill multiple times and fail to pay another altogether.
If you notice any of the above signs during your holiday visit, the next step should probably be to schedule an appointment for a physical with their primary care physician. They will be able to determine if the underlying cause is something that can be reversed with treatment—like an infection or a vitamin deficiency—or if it really is dementia.
General Warning Signs a Senior Needs Help
Dementia isn’t the only condition that puts older adults who live alone at risk. Falls, poor nutrition, and an outdated home environment are all hazardous for seniors. Here are some warning signs to look for when you visit:
- Unintended Weight Change: Gaining or losing too much weight can be a sign of a serious health issue: depression, dementia, and gastrointestinal problems are a few examples. But unintended change in weight can also be caused by arthritis or other mobility problems that impair a senior’s ability to prepare meals.
- Change in Disposition: If your loved one has always been upbeat and positive but you notice a change, it can be a sign something is wrong. The same holds true if they cry more easily, are quick to anger, or are uninterested in favorite activities and pastimes.
- Personal Hygiene: Has an always tidy parent become a little less concerned with their appearance? A close hug can reveal changes in hygiene. Unpleasant body odor and a change in personal hygiene can be signs a senior is struggling to care for themselves.
- Balance Issues: Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older adults, so it’s important to assess their risk. Watch how well your loved one navigates their way around when they are home and when you are out in public together. Also pay attention to small clues that can indicate they don’t feel safe: do they avoid using the stairs, are they more sedentary than usual, or do they seem to have difficulty rising from a chair? These are all risk factors for falls.
- Environment: There are many other small signs a senior is struggling to keep up. A few common ones are stacks of unopened mail on the counter, untended plants, expired food in the refrigerator, and burned out light bulbs that aren’t replaced. Scorched cookware can be a red flag that indicates a senior is forgetting something they have cooking on the stove—a very serious fire hazard.
If you find these warning signs in your loved one’s home during your holiday visit this year, it might be time to consider a move to a senior care community. Adult children often find it is easier to make the first visit on their own—then return a different day with their senior loved one. It gives them an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the different types of care. You might also find the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Senior Care page on our website to be helpful.
At HarborChase, we welcome calls, visits, and questions from family members. Contact the community nearest you to learn more about our unique approach to senior living.