Sometimes it hits like a ton of bricks: Mom and Dad are getting old and we won't have them forever. While wrinkles and white hair are inevitable and we all forget things now and then there are certain things you can do to be sure there aren't bigger problems looming. Next time you visit your aging parent do a bit of detective work to be sure they're as hale and hearty as they may claim. Here are some pointers you can look for if you're concerned about their well-being:
Look past the gray hair and age spots and check out your parent's overall health. Are they having problems reading or hearing? Watch their gait when they walk and how steady their hand is when they reach for their fork or drink. Check for weight loss and unexplained bruising and ask whether they've had a problem with falls or bumping into things. If you see any of these signs it's a good idea to join them the next time they visit their primary caregiver and to ask their pharmacist to review any medications for side effects and possible interactions between drugs. Take a close look at how they are dressed and whether they are clean and well groomed. While we all have our bad hair days you need to make sure theirs isn't from forgetting to wash or brush their hair. Likewise lack of hygiene can be a sign of depression or illness so look for underlying causes.
Ask questions when you visit or call and listen closely to the answers. What did they have for dinner last night? Have they been to visit anyone lately? Are they bumping into things or have they gotten dizzy or forgetful lately? Make sure they haven't been missing appointments or medication doses and they are consistently clear headed. A good way to do this is to watch the news together and talk about the current events or to play a game requiring mental acuity such as Scrabble.
Don't be afraid to snoop a bit. Check out the trashcan for evidence of recent meals and go through the refrigerator and pantry in search of outdated products. Riffle through the mail looking for unpaid bills or shutoff notices. Look at the date on prescription bottles and make sure the number of pills remaining matches the dosage schedule. Go through their checkbook and look for suspicious payments such as large or recurring checks to a charity or individual or unexplained cash withdrawals. Financial abuse of the elderly is on the rise; according to AARP 37 percent of those caring for the elderly report some kind of exploitation of their patients.
Check out the house and yard. Make sure there's no clutter that can be tripped over and that the home is being maintained as usual. Walk around the outside and see if the grass is trimmed and the gutters cleaned. While your parent may be too old to do these things themselves they still need to be done and a cleaning or landscaping service may be required. Just make sure it's not neglected because of your parent's health or memory. While you're out there make a quick visit to the neighbors and ask them if they've noticed any changes or unusual visitors.
No one likes to lose their independence so make sure you're not too pushy about your investigation. By keeping tabs on your aging parents' well being you're ensuring their lifestyle will be comfortable and safe for the long term.
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