Margaret McCoskey: Holidays present opportunities to check on health of elderly relatives

Margaret McCoskey
Margaret McCoskey

During this holiday season, we often celebrate by gathering with family members. Many of us will not have seen our aging parents and relatives for several months and may be surprised to notice a decline in their physical or mental health.

These changes are upsetting but inevitable. You are not alone. Kentucky's over-60 population will increase 91 percent from 2000 to 2030, making that age group 26 percent of the state's total population.

With aging, mental and physical problems eventually will appear, but it's often up to family members to help recognize the warning signs that mom or dad might need to seek medical help.

It is a daunting responsibility to try to determine whether our loved ones can remain safely at home, how to evaluate the circumstances and what to do once the decision has been made. Here are seven signs that it may be time to consider additional assistance or a move into assisted senior care:

■ Condition of house. The house has become cluttered and the yard is in disarray.

■ Physical appearance: They no longer take care in dressing and might wear the same clothes for several days.

■ Mail and checkbook: Mail has piled up and is unorganized; the checkbook is not up to date.

■ Eating habits: The refrigerator is empty or contains spoiled food; they are losing weight.

■ Change in decision-making: They occasionally forget to turn off a burner on the stove.

■ Physical decline: They are exhibiting physical problems such as hearing and eyesight loss, (dragging a foot or exhibiting difficulty getting out of a chair).

■ Increased confusion: They appear confused about time and place; questions are often repeated in a short time; there's a struggle to find the correct words.

If your parents or another elderly relative exhibit these signs, then a family discussion should take place. The adult children should come to a consensus about the best steps to take and then include their parents in the decision.

Don't dictate to them what will be done. Parents need to feel that they are in control and can still make decisions about their lives.

Approach them as a family and let them know everyone is concerned. Tell them that you're worried and want what is best for them. Voice your concerns about the condition of the house and their safety.

If both parents are still at home, then ask them to consider getting help with the house. Often one becomes the caregiver, and it will be a relief to have some of the burden removed.

If your parent or relative is living alone or if safety is a concern, provide information on assisted senior care and the options available with other family members and come to a decision with your parents. Today's best approach includes a continuum of care that allows seniors to age in place rather than being uprooted every time their level of need changes.

The key to helping an elderly parent or relative is to assess the signs, come to consensus as a family and research the options available — whether it's in-home assistance, adult day care, memory care or assisted senior care.