As a caregiver, you’re responsible for the well-being of someone who needs assistance with daily care. That means you’re often the first to notice changes that could indicate their health is declining. Small issues that occur during daily activities are an indication something more serious may be going on.
Balancing Act For Seniors
Loss of balance doesn’t always mean a tumble. Holding onto walls and furniture to move safely from one part of the house to the next, or holding onto the counter while making a meal, are signs someone could be having a hard time with balance. It could be that they just aren’t moving around as much as they used to, and need some exercise. But it could also be a sign of a more serious nervous system issue.
Are they having trouble getting up and down stairs or in and out of vehicles? When they’re sitting down, do they have trouble getting up on their own? Do you notice them limping, or do they seem to be pain when moving or engaging in certain activities?
Having them walk heel to toe, march in place, or rock from one foot to the other (with you standing by, of course)are all ways to help them improve balance. Vitamin D also aids muscle strength and function, so if weather permits, outdoor exercise can be doubly effective. If unsteadiness continues or increases in spite of renewed exercise, it may be time to talk to their doctor.
Recent Senior Falls
Persistent loss of balance can lead to falls and serious injuries. Aging adults are more prone to bone breaks and severe bruising, so what might be a little fall for you could mean a broken hip for them. Your elder may be hesitant to tell you if they’ve had a fall while they were alone — or even try to cover it up. Watch for new or recurring bruises, and pay close attention if they seem to be favoring part of their body.
There are things you can do to help prevent a fall. Be sure walkways are clear in the house. Open curtains to let in plenty of light, and replace burnt-out light bulbs. Make sure medications, food, and necessities are easily accessible and within reach. And be aware of potential slipping hazards, especially on hard surfaces such as bathrooms.
We often worry about an aging adult in our care becoming ill or injured. But it’s just as important to watch out for cognitive decline: a decrease in their mental abilities. Because it often happens gradually, it’s important to watch for some of the markers that may indicate a problem.
Is your elder sleeping through much of the day? Have their sleeping patterns changed recently? Are they beginning to miss commitments or appointments or becoming forgetful or confused when engaged in familiar tasks?
Do they seem to be using poor judgment, such as giving out credit card or bank account numbers to unverified callers? Do you notice mood swings or sudden changes in personality, or a loss of interest in activities and hobbies they used to enjoy?
Any of these can be signs of something bigger happening. As the caregiver, pay attention to recurring issues, and try to talk with them about what you see. If they persist or worsen, the elder’s healthcare provider should be alerted.
Senior Memory Loss
We all have days when we just have no idea where we put our car keys. But for older adults, recurring memory loss can be a sign of a more serious condition like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. If you notice medication not being taken, unopened mail piling up, or multiple occasions where they can’t remember your name, these are all signs that something could be amiss.
If memory is failing, they could miss important medications or take too much. They could leave their home and not know how to get back, or wander off when out running errands with someone. They could leave the stove or oven on, or leave water running. Any of these could lead to grave harm. So it’s critical that the caregiver watches for signs of memory loss and works with their elder to help them stay sharp.
When you’re with them, keep them mentally engaged. Playing memory games including card games, asking them to tell you their address or phone number, talking with them about recent events or giving verbal directions to a recipe are just a few ways you can sneak a little brain exercise into their daily routine.
Senior Personality Changes
If your usually sweet fellow has turned into a consistently grumpy guy, it could be a sign of something more serious. Whether it’s something small that you just can’t put your finger on, or a complete 180° shift in attitude, changes in personality can be a telltale sign your senior may need some medical attention.
Of course, all older people — and many of us younger ones — can be a bit grumpy, stubborn, or set in their ways. But refusal to do a simple daily activity like brushing their teeth or taking a bath are definitely issues to discuss with their healthcare provider or other family members.
Keeping an aging adult safe and healthy is a team effort. And as an in-home caregiver, you’re the MVP! Noticing subtle changes in daily activities can prevent a more serious health issue from occurring.