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Published on: June 10, 2013
by David R. Barile, M.D. for The Princeton Packet:
Most of us wish for our parents’ retirement years to be filled with golf games, sunset strolls and family time.
But if you are like many Americans, you also worry about how to best care for your parents as they age.
There are more than 40 million Americans over age 65, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging, and the number continues to grow. With a small fraction of those people live in nursing homes, most are being cared for by family members. Encouraging your parents to take care of themselves can help them age gracefully. Older adults who exercise regularly and eat healthy experience improved health and long-term benefits, according to the National Institutes of Health.
However, equally important is watching and recognizing signs that your parents may need some extra care and help as they grow older.
Signs to watch for
The following are some of the early warning signs that may indicate your parent’s health is starting to decline as they age:
* Forgetfulness, memory loss or confusion. Everyone forgets things. A misplaced remote control or forgotten appointment may simply be a mistake. More serious signs of memory changes include forgetting words or getting lost in familiar places. If you suspect your parent is experiencing memory loss, encourage them to see a doctor right away.
* Inattention to hygiene or cleanliness. Take note of your parents’ home and appearance. An unkempt house or poor hygiene, including failing to bathe, wash clothes or perform basic grooming may be a sign of dementia, depression or other serious problems and warrant a visit to a doctor.
* Weight loss. Rapid weight loss can signal a few problems. As people age they have less energy and struggle to stand for long periods, making cooking difficult. Sometimes loss of taste or smell makes elderly people less interested in eating. Either of these cases can signal weight loss caused by malnutrition. Weight loss and malnutrition can also be caused by an underlying health condition, making a medical evaluation critical.
* Falls and injuries. Every year, one in three adults age 65 and older experiences a fall, according to the National Institute on Aging. Falls can easily render older adults disabled, so it is important to come up with a plan to keep them safe from accidents. Older adults are likely to experience joint pain, arthritis and have trouble keeping their balance. If you notice your parent struggles to walk, avoids walking long distances, or has bruises on their body from falling, it may be a sign that they are in pain and struggling to stay mobile.
* Sadness, moodiness or depression. An ongoing blue mood or pessimism may be a sign that your parent is depressed. Pay attention to whether your parent is disconnecting with friends, pulling out of hobbies or activities they once enjoyed or changing their daily routine. If you suspect depression, talk with them about the root of their sadness and consider seeking professional help.
If one or more of these signs sound familiar, the first thing you should do is talk with your parents. Consider including other loved ones, like siblings, in the conversation. Be honest about your concerns, but remind your parents that you love them and want what is best for them.
There are a number of other steps you can take to improve your parents’ health and safety, including the following:
* Make your home safer by reducing tripping hazards, adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, adding stair railings and improving lighting. Move bedrooms or important items to the first floor and place routine items lower in cabinets so they are easier to reach.
* Research home care agencies that can help with house cleaning, bathing and dressing, or provide meals and transportation.
* If you’re concerned about changes in memory, weight loss, depression or other health issues, encourage your parent to schedule a doctor’s visit or schedule one yourself. Offer to accompany your parent on their next visit.
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