Page 58 - West Dorset Living Dec:Jan 2019
P. 58

Assessing the care needs of your elderly loved ones can be a testing and very emotional process. We have some advice on how to know when to make those difficult decisions
Christmas is a time that brings the family together, but it is also an important time to consider older loved ones’ ability to take care of themselves. When we only see relatives for short day visits we can often miss the signs that they might need more help than they let on. ‘Not wanting to cause any hassle’ is often a reason given by older people when asked why they did not alert their family members to their health needs. At Christmas, you will be able to assess the way your relative
is coping and check that they are getting what they need - it may be as simple
as meals on wheels or could be a major change like a move to a care home. Here we examine some of the signs to look out for and how you can help the person you love have the best possible quality of life.
The Most Obvious Signs:
These signs are often the ones that would cause you concern straight away - often it involves an accident like a fall or a health scare. It may also include a chronic health problem which is worsening or a susceptibility to illnesses which take hold for a while.
The most crucial thing to look out
for is whether your relative is coping with essential everyday tasks like dressing, shopping, cooking, managing medications and so on. If there are no immediate worries for health problems, it may be that your relative just needs
a little more help in the home. A really useful website is which can help you find a list of home services available to help enable them to live more happily at home.
If frailty or the frequency of injuries in the home is increasing, it may be worth looking into assisted living of some sort. For those who are still relatively mobile, retirement apartments are an excellent
option. Many have a great little community at their heart with easily accessible amenities, 24-hour support in case a fall happens again but, vitally, maintain that element of freedom that is so important.
Changes in Appearance:
The way your relative looks and feels when you hug them can tell you if they are well. If there are noticeable weight gains it may be that their mobility is being impeded or that they have developed diabetes. On the other hand, weight loss could indicate forgetfulness to eat or shop for food, or more serious underlying health problems like depression or cancer. Bad body odour and dirty clothes can tell you if they are struggling to wash themselves and manage their household. Whilst often quite subtle, these signs can indicate important changes that are the result of declining health or mobility.
If you aren’t sure, accompany your relative to the doctor to make sure all their needs are being addressed. The issues with personal hygiene could be
as simple as an inability to climb in and out of the bath, so consult a fitter who can install a new one. Other problems relating particularly to mental health
are more serious and could mean your relative needs to move from home for more specialist or nursing care. This is by no means an easy decision and must be undertaken over time.
Social Activity:
When people enter retirement, their hobbies and social meetings generally increase. Active friendships are vital for happiness, be it lunches with friends or a regular meeting with a hobby or religious group. If you notice that your loved one has started to shy away from these meetings or go for large chunks of time
without leaving the house, this is cause for concern. Lack of companionship is associated with depression and heart problems in older adults. If you know
that your relatives friends have died or moved away, moving them to somewhere where there are opportunities for new friendships could be lifesaving.
In the Home:
If you have assessed their well-being in person and believe there is a problem,
it is definitely worth visiting their home
to see how well they are taking care of things. Can you find lots of expired food in the fridge, dirt and grime in the kitchen and bathroom and lax housekeeping? These could be signs of a lack of mobility, in which case an in-house cleaning service could help. More worryingly, they could be the onset of dementia - meaning your relative is losing the ability to remember to follow through on cleaning mess and run their home.
A final sign that you relative is struggling to cope is that their finances are getting on top of them. When you visit, look for piles of unopened letters - most people will ignore junk mail, but make sure your loved one is not ignoring bills or other private and confidential letters addressed to themselves. Make sure they are
not falling victim to multiple charitable donations (if their memory is fading they may be signed up more than once) and look out for magazine subscriptions that they no longer read.
Making the decision to change the lifestyle of your loved one is huge and the emotional and financial implications must be carefully considered, but at the centre of it is the importance of making sure they are as safe, happy and well as possible, in an environment that meets their needs.

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