During the holiday seasons, we want the senior relatives in our lives to thrive and have their best quality of life. It can sometimes be difficult for us to know how to support them because when we ask how they’re doing, they tell us they’re fine! While there’s no one solution, here are some tips you can customize – based on your family dynamics – to assist seniors so you have peace of mind that they are doing well, or you have solutions to work with them and improve their quality of life.
Observation: Observe them over time, at different times of day, days of the week, different locations, and situations. Begin periodically staying with them for more than 24 hours – on different days – to observe their routines. Get different perspectives. This can sometimes be accomplished by a friend or family member asking to come and stay with them for a visit.
Work together as a family team. Keep track of observations so changes can be identified and supportive solutions can be developed. If you feel something’s different, trust your instincts.
Dehydration: It’s important to help senior loved ones make sure they’re getting enough fluids and it can be tricky to recognize. Dehydration can mask a wide range of other symptoms ranging from dementia, confusion, loss of balance, dizziness, fainting, and fatigue. A recent study by the UCLA School of Nursing identified that up to 40% of seniors might be underhydrated. There are various reasons, including medications, age-related changes in kidney functions, discomfort using the restroom, incontinence, the body having less water composition, forgetting to drink, and not feeling thirsty. Seniors are often dehydrated before they feel thirsty, and dehydration has serious medical consequences.
Ask your seniors how they manage their water intake and ensure they’re hydrated. Observe how much they drink when you’re together. Talk about what they like to drink and ensure there’s always plenty on hand. Helping them to determine how much water they should drink daily is a key solution to simplifying their water intake daily.
Help them determine if they’ve been dehydrated and help them gradually increase their fluid intake. Observe changes in them over time as they consistently get enough fluids. This helps identify the symptoms to look for to ensure they’re keeping up their fluid intake.
Personality changes: For example, has the loved one become short-tempered, lost their sense of humor, or become quiet and disinterested? If personality changes are recent, talk with them to see if they recognize the change(s) and their source so you can work through them together. They may be sad remembering the loss of a loved one or perhaps they aren’t managing their sleep, hydration, and nutrition and need support. They may have begun a new medication that’s causing issues. If you or they cannot identify the root of the change, seek professional help.
Medications: There are various reasons seniors have issues with their medications. These can include changes in their medications, medication errors, drug or food interactions, and side effects. Look at where their medications are and check for empty medicine bottles, disorganization, and missing prescriptions. If there are issues, this is an area where solutions for each type have made significant progress in recent years, including pre-filled pill packs or pill dispensers with all medications for each dose already prepared. The dispensers have alerts as well as tracking for when medications are taken and there are apps that track them so family members can monitor their use.
Sleep: Have their sleep patterns changed? There are a variety of potential causes for this including pain, lack of melatonin to help regulate sleep, side effects of medications, sleep apnea, and medical conditions. A place to start is to stay with them for several days and observe their daily routine. Ask the loved one about recent changes if you observe any of these. They may not know the cause of these issues. If they aren’t sure, this is a time to consider seeking medical advice.
Personal hygiene: Changes in personal hygiene can be signs of depression, struggles with bathing from fear of falling in the shower to difficulty getting in and out of a tub, balance issues, to challenges with laundry, or cognitive issues. A simple way to start the conversation is to share a tip you recently learned about improving some aspect of personal hygiene and ask them for their advice.
Talk with them about their hygiene routine and look for ways to help simplify it for them, from an easy-to-follow schedule to products and safety measures. This topic is often gender and personal relative sensitive. The senior loved one may not be comfortable talking with their adult child. If, for example, it’s the mother, they may be uncomfortable sharing their hygiene routine with a son. Match them with someone with whom they are comfortable sharing personal information.
Communication: Are their conversations more guarded? Are they sharing less of what they’re doing? When they’re sharing information, do their stories make sense? Do they seem confused? Sometimes it’s not what they are saying, it’s what they aren’t saying. One tip to check for cognitive issues is to ask decade-based questions and check their memory throughout the years. Whatever area they are becoming more guarded in is a caution flag for you to learn more about by observing more closely, asking them more questions, and asking others what they know.
Nutrition: Have they gained or lost weight recently? When you eat with them, how is their appetite? Are there types of foods they will no longer eat that could be a sign of dental or medical issues? Sometimes when seniors live alone, they won’t cook for themselves. Ask them about their routine. How are they shopping for groceries? Preparing nutritious meals? Cooking? Cleaning? Tour their kitchen, have a meal with them. Work with them to simplify their food shopping, meal prep, and cleanup.
Home: Some seniors who are having challenges keeping up with their daily responsibilities will find reasons not to have anyone visit them in their home. If this is the case with your loved one(s), one solution is to make it about you. Explain to them you want to make sure everything is working safely in their home and it will give you peace of mind knowing it is. You can begin observing their environment if they welcome you in their home. If they don’t want you to visit, this may be a sign they are struggling in some area of maintaining their home. They may be more receptive to having someone else check in on their surroundings. For example, hiring someone to weekly or monthly check their surroundings could make them feel more independent. Ensure that your senior feels comfortable enough to reach out for assistance with this.
Driving: This is a very sensitive topic because seniors tie it so closely to independence. They may or may not be aware they have driving issues. Do family members know how well their loved one drives? It’s important to test this regularly. If the loved one is insistent they drive well and are resistant to driving other family members, find a way to have them drive for someone in the family or have a family member discreetly follow them when they drive to an appointment. When driving with them make sure they travel a route that is not routine. While out, ask them to take you to a store (that’s not on their route) so you can pick something up. If it’s a couple, has one spouse taken over the driving responsibilities even though the other spouse insists they can still drive?
If you ever need additional help such as respite or assisted living when you aren’t able to take care of an elderly loved one anymore, please give one of our experts Oasis Senior Advisors a call to walk you through our one-on-one process of finding the right place where a loved one can feel at home. Contact us today at (888) 455-5838.