The holiday season offers an opportunity to visit with parents, grandparents and other older relatives we may not have seen in awhile. For some, the 2022 holiday season may be the first opportunity for in-person visits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These holiday visits are not only a time for happy reunions, they are also an opportunity to look for changes in your older loved one that may indicate a need for programs or services to help them continue to live safely in their home.
In fact, January is one of the busiest times of year for Council on Aging’s Aging and Disability Resource Center – our call center. This is because family members who’ve spent time visiting with older relatives over the holidays noticed changes or other issues that raised concerns. Family members call Council on Aging to be connected to the wide variety of programs, services and other resources available to older adults and caregivers in southwestern Ohio.
Common concerns mentioned during these calls include weight loss, mobility problems, changes to housekeeping and personal care habits, and more. These common but often over-looked signs can be key indicators that an older loved one is having trouble staying independent.
Things to look out for may include:
- Changes in weight
- Lack of mobility
- Unexplained bruising or injuries
- Forgetfulness and confusion
- Poor hygiene
- Changes in mood/depression
- Empty refrigerator or spoiled food
- Stack of unpaid bills
- New or unexplained dents in their car
- Un-kept house
- Concerns from neighbors or friends
Sometimes it’s hard for older loved ones to ask for help – they may not recognize the need for help, or they may be concerned that asking for help could result in a loss of independence. This is why it is important to be aware of how well older relatives are aging, and to be informed about when we should offer help.
Consider these questions during and after your visit:
- Does your loved one require help with chores or housekeeping, bathing, dressing, shopping and meal preparation, managing money, transportation or medications?
- Are they isolated? How often do they socialize with others?
- If living with another, are they dependent on that person for care? Is that person an appropriate caregiver? Does the caregiver understand your loved-one’s medical conditions?
- Are there warning signs of self-neglect, or abuse, or neglect by others (see below).
If you have concerns about your loved one’s health and safety, schedule some private time with them and other family members to discuss any concerns and future planning needs. When you mention your concerns, offer specific examples of what you noticed or observed during your visit.
Making your loved one feel supported and in control will result in a better outcome for everyone. Discuss what help they might need to remain independent and then work together to identify available resources. Allow time for them to express anxieties and needs. You can decide together what needs to be done and who can help. This type of partnership can help prevent serious accidents and future health complications, and it can also prolong a person’s independence.
Your Area Agency on Aging can connect you, your family and your older loved one to information and resources that promote safety and independence and improve quality of life. Council on Aging is the Area Agency on Aging for Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties. Contact Council on Aging at help4seniors.org or (513) 721-1025. To find an Area Agency on Aging in another part of Ohio or the U.S., click here.
Warning Signs of Abuse and Neglect
If the older adult lives alone and does not have anyone providing assistance, self-neglect may become an issue. Some things to look for include:
- no longer able to handle meal preparation, bathing, bill paying, etc.
- alcohol or drug abuse
- frequent falls
- appears undernourished, dehydrated, under-medicated, or is not getting care for problems with eyesight, hearing, dental problems, incontinence, etc.
NEGLECT OR ABUSE BY OTHERS
If the older adult lives with others or has someone coming in to help, neglect or abuse may become an issue. Some things to look for include:
- presence of “new best friend” who is willing to care for the older adult for little or no cost
- recent changes in banking or spending patterns
- older adult is isolated from friends and family
- caregiver has problems with drugs, alcohol, anger and/or emotional instability
- caregiver is financially dependent on the older person
- family pet seems neglected or abused
- an abundance of mail and/or phone solicitations for money (“You’re a winner!”)
- older adult seems afraid of the caregiver
- older adult has unexplained bruises, cuts, etc.
- older adult has “bed sores” (pressure sores from lying in one place for too long)
- older adult appears dirty, undernourished, dehydrated, over- or under-medicated, or is not receiving needed care for problems with eyesight, hearing, dental issues, incontinence
What should you do?
- If you suspect your older loved one is at risk and he/she lives in the community, call your local Adult Protective Services office. If the person lives in a licensed facility, call the local Long-term Care Ombudsman. You can find the numbers for your state and other helpful resources through the Eldercare Locator.
- Introduce yourself to responsible neighbors and friends. Give them your address and phone numbers in case of an emergency.
- Ask your older loved ones directly if they are afraid of anyone, if anyone is taking things without their permission; if anyone is asking them to do things they are not comfortable with, or if anyone is humiliating them. These screening questions may reveal hidden anxieties caused by abuse or neglect.
- If you think your loved one needs help in order to continue living independently, contact the local Area Agency on Aging to learn about local in-home care options and other community resources. In Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties, Council on Aging is the state-designated Area Agency on Aging. You can make an online referral or call us at (513) 721-1025.
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