Our aging loved-ones are in transition. The loss of family members and friends, a change in living arrangements, changes in fitness and health, the loss of driving privileges, even the death of a pet all put a loved-one under stress and may place them at risk. With these life-changes it’s completely normal for our loved-ones to show temporary signs of depression, irritability, forgetfulness and minor self-neglect. But how how can you tell the difference between normal and temporary responses to stress and when it’s something more concerning or more permanent?
Know What to Look For
Some changes are barely noticeable, and not all changes are reason for concern. Once-in-a-while we all forget details or put things off, but if a pattern of depression, neglect or confusion develops and persists, it may be serious, it might even possibly indicated dementia (a decline in cognitive functions due to disease or trauma). So, for the benefit of your loved-one–and to improve their quality of life–sharpen your observational skills, and look for patterns of consistent neglect or deterioration within the following contexts:
Basic tasks – difficulty in walking, dressing, talking, eating, cooking, climbing steps, or managing medications.
Hygiene – infrequent bathing, unusually sloppy appearance, foul body and/or mouth odor.
Dressing – seasonally inappropriate dress, mismatched clothing (shoes, socks), multiple layers of clothes
Responsibilities – mail is unopened, papers are piled up, checkbook is unreadable, bills are unpaid, bank account overdraft notices are accumulating, prescriptions are unfilled, phone calls aren’t returned, cooking pots and pans look burned, refrigerator interior has foul odor, food supply is low, home interior and/or exterior is unkempt, laundry is piling up, automobile has new dents.
Health – weight loss, changes in appetite, problems swallowing, fatigue, burns, black and blue marks (possible signs of falling), hearing loss (look for signs of lip reading and talking loudly), seems withdrawn without reason, incontinence (bed-wetting), spilling and dropping things (check carpet for stains), complaints of muscle weakness, insomnia or excessive sleeping, dehydration.
Isolation – lack of interest in outside friendships, activities, or hobbies, keeps curtains drawn day and night (if this is atypical).
Attitude – sadness, display of verbal or physical abuse, talk of being depressed and feelings of despair, abuse of alcohol or drugs, paranoia, refusal to communicate, unusual argumentativeness, a recent emotional or medical crisis.
Cognitive functions – consistent forgetfulness about where things are, getting lost while walking or driving, confusion, loss of reasoning skills, difficulty answering questions, inability to find the right word, use of repetitive words or phrases, severe personality changes, wandering, inability to recall names of familiar people or objects, inability to complete a sentence, forgetting how to use simple, ordinary things such as a can opener, forgetting to close windows, turn off the stove, and lock doors, loss of sense of time.