If you are reading this article, chances are you have already faced or will eventually face the challenge of caring for an elderly parent or other family member.
The tremendous strides in health care combined with the aging of baby boomers have served to create an “older America” than has ever existed. The number of Americans over age 65 is expected to reach 40 million in 2011 and increase to 70.3 million, or 20 percent of the total population, by 2030.
While it is very common in today’s society to find active and engaged 70- 80- and even 90-year-olds, it is also common to find senior adults who because of physical or cognitive decline have become less independent and sometimes even unsafe in their own homes. For children of these seniors, the initial task – and sometimes the most daunting – is identifying when their older loved one needs help.
Frequent contact with the elderly person is essential for the family to provide support and to look for any changes in their loved one’s appearance or behavior. Families should consider the following elements to determine whether their senior might be in need of additional care or assistance:
n Environment – Has a clean, well-kept house become cluttered and dirty? Are there unpleasant odors? Look around the kitchen. Is there spoiled food or burned cookware? Check medications. Are the dates on the bottles current? Are there multiple doctors prescribing?
n Physical appearance and functioning – Do you see any changes in their weight, cleanliness or grooming? Are there bruises or skin tears? These may indicate falls. How is their hearing and eyesight? How are they moving about?
n Behavior and cognitive functioning – Do they act or speak any differently? Do they seem overly suspicious or repeat themselves excessively? Have they stopped activities or socialization they once enjoyed? Are they able to tell you about the activities of their day or how they take their medicine?
If you think there may be a problem, take action. First, discuss your concerns with the individual. Be gentle. One of the greatest fears of elders is the loss of independence. Reassure them you want to get them help so they can function better in their own environment.
Make an appointment with their physician. The changes you see could be the result of any number of problems – anything from vision loss or infection to depression or dementia. The key is to get some answers so you can help them function more safely and prevent a crisis.
Finally, seek help through resources in your community. Home health services, nutrition programs, homemaker services and companion/sitter agencies are just some of the options that exist to help seniors successfully “age in place.” For resource information or assistance in accessing these resources, contact your local Area Agency on Aging or a social worker at your local hospital or home health agency.
For more information on North Mississippi Medical Center’s Home Health, call (662) 377-2499. To speak with a home health care professional 24 hours a day, call 1-888-231-9282.
Gina Smith is a licensed clinical social worker for North Mississippi Medical Center Home Health.