Knowing when your parent or other aging loved one needs an outside caregiver can be a tricky business. On the one hand, your loved one may chafe at giving up independence — but having a caregiver can dramatically improve their quality of life in their golden years. Here are eight signs both small and large to look for, from trouble donning compression socks to issues paying bills.
- They can’t safely drive a car.
In many cities, being able to drive a car is basically a prerequisite for living independently. If you can, go for a drive with your loved one behind the wheel and note how they do. Do they fasten their seat belt as soon as they get into the car? Are they easily distracted, or do they stay focused on the road? Do they exhibit unsafe driving behaviors such as drifting into other lanes, tailgating other vehicles, driving too fast or slow, or mixing up the pedals? Also check for nicks and dents on the car and whether there are any notices of recent traffic violations around the house.
- They’re becoming isolated.
Some older adults may realize that they’re not as good of a driver as they once were and self-limit their trips in the car as a result. While this keeps them safe and off the road, it can also keep them from participating in vital social activities such as clubs, church gatherings and art and fitness classes. Ask your loved one about the last time they left the house and what they’re doing to stay connected to others. If you have contact with their close friends, you can also reach out to them to get a third-party view of how engaged your senior is and whether they’ve let old hobbies fall by the wayside.
- Their home is full of fall hazards.
As they age, adults become prone to falls — and unfortunately, the side effects of aging can also result in a home that’s full of fall hazards. Whether through forgetfulness or a simple inability to clean, seniors may let clutter pile up, which in turn presents a tripping hazard. Look for other signs of neglect, such as spills that haven’t been mopped or bathrooms that haven’t been cleaned. Depending on how bad the mess is, your loved one might need a caregiver and possibly an additional housekeeper for more heavy-duty cleaning tasks.
- Feeding themselves is tough.
Cooking can be a chore even at the best of times, and memory issues or a lack of mobility can exacerbate it. Take stock of the kitchen: Look for an excessive number of stale or expired foods, multiples of the same item, broken appliances, numerous frozen dinners or takeout containers and signs of fire like burned pots, discharged fire extinguishers or disabled smoke alarms. Home fires are a significant danger for older adults, and many of them turn to unhealthy but easy prepared meals as it becomes too hard to use the stove. A visiting caregiver will make light meals such as sandwiches whenever they check in on your loved one.
- Their personal hygiene is slipping.
Aging adults may let themselves as well as their house go. Look out for bad breath, body odor, unshaved beards, dirty hair, dry skin and other signs that indicate they’re not keeping up with basic hygiene activities like showering and brushing their teeth. Also keep an eye out for other changes in appearance, such as noticeable weight loss or gain, seeming frail or suddenly stopping the regular use of makeup or hair products. If your loved one likes to make visits to the salon, hair stylist or manicurist, inquire to see if they’re still going.
- They have trouble dressing themselves.
Clothes are another important part of appearance, and they can also be a tell-tale sign that the senior in your life needs a caretaker. If your loved one is having trouble with basic tasks such as fastening buttons on a shirt or putting on shoes, that’s a good indication that they may need a caregiver. Some older adults may try to hide these signs by switching to clothes they can more easily manage on their own, such as pullover sweaters and pants with elastic waistbands rather than zippers or buttons. Pay attention to what your loved one is wearing and look out for a sudden change to more comfortable clothes.
- Bills and other business go unfinished.
Seniors often let mail pile up, including unpaid bills and letters from banks and other financial institutions. Talk to your loved one to make sure they’re staying on top of payments and nothing is overdue. While you’re at it, also ask if they’ve donated to any charities or individuals lately. Older adults are vulnerable to scammers, and if they’re having memory problems, they may also forget earlier donations and give to a legitimate charity multiple times. If these financial issues are an ongoing problem, see if you can take over part of the bill paying, or if you need to get a financial manager involved.
- They struggle to recover from illness and injury.
The odds of developing an illness or getting into an accident rise as we age, as does the time needed to recover. If your senior is taking a while to recover from the latest bad cold — or if that cold turns into something more serious, like bronchitis — getting an in-home caregiver can take some of the stress off them and help them focus on their health. Of course, we all injure ourselves or get sick occasionally, but if your loved one always seems to be ill, talk to them about getting a caregiver.
Recognize the Warning Signs
Don’t wait until the situation is dire to get a caregiver for your loved one. It will be easier on everyone involved if the transition is gradual, so you can all ease into it. Keep the lines of communication open and be proactive about asking how your loved one is doing and if there have been any changes in habits.