The holiday season is a time of year when people gather together to celebrate and enjoy one another’s company. Because loved ones are separated by many miles in a lot of families, these visits can provide adult children with an opportunity to see firsthand how aging parents are managing on their own.
One question that often arises is how to know when it’s time to discuss with an elder enlisting the services of a home care agency or moving to a senior living community. This is especially true if an adult child suspects their parent has dementia-related memory loss.
This is a great question to ask and a necessary one. It’s also important to identify the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or a related type of dementia to keep an aging loved one safe. Here’s what to look for when it comes to spotting the warning signs a senior needs assistance.
Red Flags to Look for During a Holiday Visit
Falls, poor nutrition, and an unsafe home environment can all be hazardous for older adults, especially those who live alone. Here are some warning signs to look for when you visit your senior loved one:
- Unexplained weight change: Unintentionally gaining or losing a significant amount of weight is an issue that needs to be discussed. While it can be a sign of a poor diet, unexplained weight change in a senior can also signal a health condition. Depression, cancer, dementia, and gastrointestinal problems are some examples. A change in weight may also be the result of arthritis or Parkinson’s, which can make meal preparation tough.
- Lack of personal hygiene: Has a parent become less particular about their personal appearance than in the past? A hug is an easy way to spot changes in hygiene. Body odor, untidy hair, clothing inappropriate for the time of day or weather may be signs a senior is struggling to care for themselves.
- Problems with balance: Falls continue to be a leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among seniors. When you are visiting an aging parent this holiday season, pay attention to how well they are navigating at home and in public. Do they avoid using the stairs? Are they spending a lot of time sitting? When they rise from a chair, does the senior seem to be unsteady? These are just a few indications they are at risk for falling. Bumps and bruises are a clue that an aging parent may be experiencing falls and not telling you.
- Change in disposition: If your parent has always been upbeat and positive but now seems down or quick to anger, it’s another sign something might be wrong. Paranoia, tearfulness, and withdrawing from favorite hobbies and social groups can also be early indicators of dementia.
- Neglecting home maintenance: There are other signs a senior is struggling to keep up that are easy to overlook. Stacks of unopened mail on the counter or in the mailbox, untended plants, expired food in the refrigerator, and baskets full of dirty laundry. One to be especially concerned about is scorched cookware. This is often a red flag a senior is leaving the kitchen and forgetting something is cooking and is a very serious fire risk. This may also be an early warning sign for Alzheimer’s.
Is a Senior Loved One in the Early Stages of Alzheimer’s?
Worldwide, 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. In fact, 1 in 8 older Americans will receive this diagnosis at some point in their lives. If you are concerned your parent will be one of them, here are a few warning signs to look for:
1. Difficulty with short term memory
Alzheimer’s can impact short-term memory early in the disease process. While we all forget things from time to time, a pattern of forgetfulness isn’t a normal sign of aging. This is especially true if the senior doesn’t recall items at a later time. For example, if the older adult forgets about a hair appointment but later realizes it, there probably isn’t anything to worry about. But if they don’t remember they made the appointment at all, you likely need to discuss it with their primary care physician.
2. Frequently misplacing things
When you are home visiting for the holidays, pay attention to missing items and belongings “stored” in odd places. Did you come across your dad’s car keys in the refrigerator? Were your mom’s missing glasses in the freezer? Consistently placing belongings in unusual locations can be a red flag for dementia.
3. Problems finding the right words
Not only does a senior with early Alzheimer’s have trouble maintaining their end of a conversation, they tend to have difficulty finding and using the right words. An older adult with a memory impairment might point to the dog and call it a squirrel or call the television a stove. Many times, they don’t even realize their mistake. Other seniors might become adept at talking around a word they can’t recall. They might refer to their watch a “wrist clock,” for example, because they don’t remember what’s really called.
4. Mismanaging finances
Mistakes with or mismanagement of finances is a hallmark of early Alzheimer’s disease. It leads seniors in the early stages of the disease to fall victim to identify theft and other forms of fraud. The senior might neglect to pay bills completely or pay some multiple times. They may also loan money to inappropriate people or spend significant amounts of money online or on home shopping channels.
If the warning signs outlined above sound familiar, it’s probably a good idea to schedule an appointment with a doctor. The symptoms may be something easily reversed, such as a vitamin deficiency or an undiagnosed infection.
Utilize the Sunrise Care Questionnaire
If you think it’s likely that an aging parent or other senior loved one needs more care, you might not be sure what the best solution is. The Sunrise Care Questionnaire can help. This online tool will walk you through a series of questions that help determine what type of care is most appropriate and how to start your search.