The National Institute on Aging estimates that over three million Americans fit the definition of long-distance caregivers. Whether you live an hour away or in a different state, caregiving for aging loved ones at a distance presents very real challenges. For example, parents may not share health issues with their children who live far away from home because they don’t want to worry them. However, as someone who only sees your parent a few times during the year, you may be in a better position to notice warning signs than other relatives who live nearby, since they have observed the changes happen more gradually. When visiting your parent, watch out for the following signs that they may need to move to a senior living community that can provide more care.
Around the House
- Signs of a Fire – Accidental fires are a common home danger for elderly adults. Inspect the kitchen and look for singed stove knobs, charred pots, disassembled smoke detectors, or a discharged fire extinguisher.
- Abundance of Frozen Meals & Takeout Menus – A freezer full of frozen dinners or a drawer full of takeout menus may indicate that your loved one’s nutritional needs are not being met. A change in mental and physical abilities could explain why they no longer wish to cook for themselves.
- Clutter – A failure to throw away excess items could be a sign of a physical or neurological issue. Excess items in the home can also present an increased risk for falling, fires, and mold.
- Poor Housekeeping – Those with early signs of dementia often have trouble maintaining a tidy home. Signs include spills that have not been cleaned up, thick layers of dust, cobwebs, and bathroom mold. Even for those without dementia, these issues may indicate physical limitations on certain aspects of daily living.
- Neglected Plants or Animals – Look for unchanged litter boxes, unbathed dogs, and dead plants. All of these can point to signs of dementia or a physical ailment.
- Piles of Mail – Irregular mail retrieval can point to forgetfulness. Unopened mail also raises concerns about how your loved one handles paying bills and other financial matters.
- Changes in Clothing Preferences – If your parent seems to now only wear sweatpants, it could mean they lack the dexterity for buttons or no longer have the strength to operate an iron and ironing board.
- Weight Loss – If your loved one feels thinner when you hug them or their clothes appear loose, these could be signs of a variety of conditions. It could also indicate that they are having trouble remembering to eat.
- Weight Gain – Common causes of significant weight gain include diabetes, dementia, or even an injury that limits physical movement.
- Frail Appearance – Evaluate your parent’s strength and stature. If they seem to have trouble getting out of a chair or maintaining balance while walking, then could be at increased risks for falls and fall-related injuries.
- Poor Hygiene – Hygiene represents one of the most obvious signs of deterioration. If your parent has a strong body odor, unkempt hair, or dirty clothing, they could suffer from chronic depression or a memory-related illness.
Major Red Flags
- Recent Accidents – Bruises or scrapes on your loved one could indicate they are more prone to falls and other accidents. Though accidents do happen, odds higher for the elderly.
- A Worsening Health Condition – The presence of chronic problems such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, COPD, and dementia mean that your parent will increasingly require more assistance in managing their condition.
- Signs of Dangerous Driving – Those with an impaired ability to drive may exhibit dangerous behaviors behind the wheel such as tailgating, drifting from their lane, going below the speed limit, reacting slowly, and mixing up pedals. Pay attention to these signs in addition to fresh dents or marks on the car that may also indicate careless driving. If your parent can no longer drive, they may need to live in a place that provides transportation services.
- Difficulty Managing ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) – Dressing, bathing, cooking, and managing medications are the skills needed to live independently. If your parent shows increasing difficulty with managing their ADLs, it may be time to discuss a new living arrangement.
If your loved one displays any of these signs, you may want to start discussing the option of a senior living community. When you are ready to begin the search for a provider in your area, you can contact an OurParents Senior Living Advisor for assistance.