The holiday season is here, and you may have visited, or will be visiting an elderly loved one. Are things different than the last visit? Are you seeing things that don’t seem right? How do you know if something is wrong? Below are some areas to consider (note feminine emphasis for ease of writing, but also applicable to elder males):
Personal Hygiene – Does she shower less frequently, wear dirty clothes, or have neglected teeth? Are there any injuries that you can see? Is there a urine smell? Was she always fastidious about her wardrobe, and now is dressing in a less put together way?
Forgetfulness – Have you seen stacks of unopened mail or newspapers, unpaid bills, unfilled prescriptions or missed appointment slips? Letters from credit card companies with reminders to pay or late payment charges can be a sign.
Behavior – Does she repeat questions? Can she carry on an extended conversation? Does she refuse any suggestion or does she just agree with everything said? Does she retain what was said? Are there any apparent mood swings? Is she unusually loud or quiet? Is she angry?
Relationships – Do friends call? Have relationships changed in such a way that friends and neighbors have expressed concerns? Has she quit socializing or participating?
Medication and Health Management – Can she take medications without supervision? What are the medications? Who goes to the doctor with her? Is she going to the doctor at all? Does she refuse to go?
Eating Habits – Does the refrigerator contain adequate food? Is there any spoiled food present? Sour milk? Rotten eggs? Have her eating habits changed? Any unexplained weight loss? Has she missed meals or have a lack of appetite?
Shopping or buying things – Do you see evidence of excessive shopping or ordering? Is the mail full of charitable letters, a sign that she is giving money to anyone who asks? Is she having difficulty making change or writing checks?
Home Maintenance – Is it in disrepair? Is dust accumulating where (at one time) she was a great housekeeper? Is trash accumulating? Is the kitchen clean and counters wiped down? Are dishes piling up in the sink?
Kathleen S. Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM, is a Geriatric Care Manager and Elder Care Consultant in Northern Virginia. She works with seniors and their families to help guide them through the challenges of aging and caregiving.
This article was first published in December 2011, and was updated in December 2017.