Investigate: How is Your Senior?

By now the proverbial “frost is on the pumpkin”, and the malls are brimming with fancy decorations. Remnants of Halloween candy can still be found in places and websites are sharing details for finding holiday lights, bazaars and parades. To the trained eye these events may signal the advance of well-meaning articles on “How to Evaluate Your Senior Over the Holidays.” Important stuff, for both the first-time reader and for the regulars who read in search of a new nugget.

Military ObservationHoliday gatherings provide an excellent opportunity to notice if our senior loved ones have changed since a previous visit. The Family Caregiver’s Alliance reports that families provide 80 percent of the long-term care in this country. So it is not uncommon for the adult children of seniors to have some concerns about how their parents are doing.

We can adopt a military flair for our missions at hand (Ten-HUT, you Baby Boomers and members of the  Sandwich Generation). We can consider this to be a Covert Operation, and we’re going to let you in on our techniques. Your mission: Observe, discuss and divvy with those best suited to assist.

Since holidays are festive by tradition and a good time to catch up with other family members, no one will notice your conversational inquiries. There may be real concerns about our seniors’ safety and well-being. This is not the time to make anyone defensive or uncomfortable by having a serious talk.

This is RECON (reconnaissance, a military term for gathering information)! It’s about being open to noticing change.

Talking Tips for Seniors

Our goal here is to look for clues as to how things are really going. And be sure to find our other blogs that cover Tips for Talking (suggestions for ways to talk with senior family members or with siblings) and how to determine if more assistance may be needed.

As you visit this year, consider the following:

  • Do you notice any obvious change in weight, appearance or mood?
  • During conversations listen for any differences in speech patterns. Is there forgetfulness or difficulty remembering? None of us can remember all the dates and chronology, but are the names and events generally adding up?
  • Sure, we have always teased Aunt Meg about being a little ditzy, but has the level of ditziness increased?
  • Are favorite pastimes still in place? For example, has an elder stopped reading, or doing their daily crossword puzzles?
  • Is there mention of going out to see friends or to a place of worship? Any talk of events or activities, either recent or planned? Are they “knowing” or “going”?
  • Are things out of place, or in odd places? (A friend found her mom’s glasses in the fridge). “Hey Mom, where is the (item) that has always been kept here?”
  • If there is a twosome, married or roommates, does one seem to “cover” for the other? (We learned things we could never have detected over the phone).
  • Medications (Ten-HUT, Recon-ers!) are an easy item for review. (Find ’em. Read ’em.) This goes for kitchen counters and bathroom cabinets. Are they filled, and within date? Is there a full bottle dated some time ago (perhaps not being taken?) Say, doesn’t checking this make you want to have a look for any out-of-date items in the pantry and the fridge?
  • Unlabeled food in the fridge presents a danger (for whatever the reason, forgetfulness or visual problems).
  • Outside observations are invaluable (Recon-ers will earn a Weekend Pass for sure with this one). If there is an opportunity, chat with a neighbor or with the pastor for their input as to how your folks are getting along, and what they might need.

5 SensesWe read an article suggesting that the Five Senses approach be used to observe. The Five Senses idea prompts us to use our Five to remember and evaluate their Five:

  1. Sight: (Use yours to) evaluate the use of sight by the senior. (By the way, when was last eye exam?). House clean? Burns on counter, stains or burns near favorite chair or bed? What about the aforementioned meds, bathroom cabinet, pantry and fridge? Is where your senior most often sits comfy, and well-lit? Evaluate the fit: is the chair’s height and arms a help or a hindrance to rising?
    Great opportunity: observe folks as they rise and cross the room. Slow to rise? Do you notice any wincing or hesitation? How clear is their path (look for electrical cords or scatter rugs, or furniture to negotiate)? Evaluate the lighting.
    Even better opportunity: The phone rings and they rise to answer. Follow with your eyes, and evaluate. Bonus if you get to witness their ability to hear on phone. Double-bonus if you begin thinking of the convenience of multiple cordless phones (adding a great gift idea to that holiday list).
  2. Sound: Are they speaking normally? Can the senior hear you and understand even if you are not directly facing them? Is there mention of activities, others who are involved in their lives? Use your hearing to observe to what is said – and what is not being said.
  3. Smell: Is everything OK regarding personal hygiene? How about the fridge? Garbage out (BTW, how easy is the path to take the garbage out. Any steps, railings to negotiate when hands are full?).
  4. Taste: How’s the food, are favorite family recipes any different? We learn that sense of taste diminishes with age or may be affected by medication, so if you see over-the-top salt and sugar use simply note it. (On the subject of food, back to sight: Is there fresh food in the house beyond that of the holiday festivities?).
  5. Touch: Aw, let’s have a HUG! Do you notice any bruises or tears in the skin? Are nails clean and cared for? How about swelling (fingers or ankles, etc.). Are their hands cold? Use the “Cold hands…Warm Heart” cliché to begin a conversation you can take in many directions!

Ten-HUT! Check your GUT: If you think something is amiss then it probably is.

Remember, Recon is observation for information. Recon often leads to planning for return. It is probably best to avoid heavy conversations and hasty decisions during the holiday, but do resolve to debrief soon after. Talk with family, and with NAVIGATE NC. At face value, you may be uncertain if the changes are part of the natural aging process or perhaps something more.

At this point, your Recon mission will end in success! You will have captured important information, and for many, this means they will have created a baseline for future comparisons. 

Please tell us about your experiences. What did you find, and was anything puzzling or unexpected?

Even if you notice only a small decline, it is never too early to know what resources are available and who might be able to help. You don’t need to do it all by yourself. NAVIGATE NC is here to help you with further assessment, flexible services, and a plan for the future. Connect with us or call 99.628.4428 to set up a free consultation.

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