Ryan:
Welcome everybody, to the Caregiver’s ToolBox, Tools for Everyday Caregiving. My name is Ryan McEniff. I’m here with Janet and today, in episode seven, we’re going to be talking about the top warning signs for seniors needing help. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go out and run and get private home care, but that means that you might need to start looking at whatever those options are from checking in on Mom more often, to nursing home. They can range the gamut.

 

 The Warning Signs For Seniors

Janet, let’s just hop right into warning signs for seniors and one of the things that we see often in private home care, when people call us up at the beginning stages, it revolves around food. Usually, it’s spoiled food, but there’s also not enough food in the home. Meaning that somebody’s just eating microwaved, very salty meals three times a day, but also, we’ll get a lot of spoiled food where just an overwhelming amount of spoiled food in the refrigerator, or the freezer, or the cabinet. What’s your experience with soilding food as a warning signs for seniors, Janet?

Janet:
I think this is a good indicator and just, with this example like every other example, what we’re looking for is what varies from what was their norm. If someone didn’t pay attention, and had expired milk, and you’d have to often remind them, well that’s not something that’s any different, but if you have a loved one that is traditionally on top of when they bought things and thrown them out before they’re spoiled, and you suddenly see that there’s something in the fridge with mold on it or an odor to things, that can be a flag that you need to look at.

Of course, it depends on what the season of the year is, too. This time of year, it could be a matter of they could have lost power in a snowstorm and the fridge went out and it spoiled or in the summer, they left something out in the heat and it spoiled., that not one of the warning signs for seniors.  You don’t want to get crazy about it, but just an idea that if things seem different, that suddenly things are going bad and they didn’t before, or in the case of no food at all, is it a matter of something has changed in their way of thinking? Is it something that a neighbor usually takes them shopping and didn’t or they just said, “Oh, I wasn’t hungry?” That can lead to a whole different conversation.

Food is a nice, simple way of you open the fridge to get out some milk to have a cup of tea with your mom and you notice things don’t seem right. Depending upon your relationship, you can have a conversation. Say, “Mom, do we need to do some shopping? Is there something I can do to help?” See where it goes from there.

Ryan:
Yeah, and spoiled food can be part of warning signs for senior of dementia while, at the same time, not having enough food can be a symptom of the same exact thing. While, not having enough food can be a symptom of somebody no longer having the dexterity to get in the cabinets or to be able to make their own meals, so they go without and they just get microwaveable meals. It doesn’t necessarily mean one thing or another, it just means that there might need to be a little more assistance in the home. All that might be is just a family member going over there and buying groceries on a weekly basis, too.

Janet:
Yeah, and a lot of times, there are a lot of products out there that just aren’t user-friendly to open.

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Janet:
You know? I fight opening the cereal box without ripping it myself, but you can have that kind of thing, and it could also be something as simple as they weren’t feeling well, or maybe there’s dental issues and they’re not eating like they usually do. It’s not necessarily oh, my gosh, Mom has dementia.

Ryan:
Yeah, it can be something, you know, it’s like going on WebMD and everybody’s dying with the lightest diagnosis. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the worst is occurring if you see these things.

Janet:
Exactly.

 

Warning Signs For Seniors: Mobility

Ryan:
It just means a little help is needed. Jumping into the next of our warning signs for seniors, which is a big one, is mobility, walking, and balance. Somebody’s having issues with those types of things and we’ll just keep the same format, Janet. What do you think about that?

Janet:
Well, I think with mobility, the best way to notice some of that is if someone is … There’s this magical power that a lot of our parents and grandparents have that when we see them, they can do wonderful things and stand up straight and everything, but then, you peek around the corner and they’re holding on to the edge of the counter, they’re moving slowly, they’re shuffling their feet, things like that. Or, you notice there are things that could be in the way and they used to keep a really neat house. If they’re unsteady, by definition, they’re a fall risk and you want to see just what’s going on.  Those are big warning signs for seniors and older adults.

Ryan:
Absolutely, and just to ensure that they are as safe as possible. There are plenty of articles out there, and we’ve spoken on it in past podcasts, of just because somebody’s having difficulty with balance and mobility, there might be some simple steps that need to be taken with grab bars, non-stick mats on the floors, and taking up rugs that are easy to trip over.

Janet:
Yeah, it could be that their eyeglasses, their prescription is a problem. They could have an inner ear infection and your ears really affect your balance, so it could be a variety of things.

Warning Signs for Seniors: Memory Issues

Ryan:
Absolutely. The next of the warning signs for seniors we’re going to talk about is forgetfulness. This, obviously, can happen with age and anybody can be confused from time to time, but with your experience, especially with dementia and the overwhelming experience that you have, maybe you can speak about for a minute, the difference between forgetfulness and forgetfulness associated with dementia.

Janet:
Yeah, general forgetfulness is, I mean, we all live with it. Where did I leave my keys? We have three cars in the parking lot that are the same as mine and I lose my car going home at the end of the day. Figure out which one it is, but when someone just doesn’t remember an entire situation that was pretty clear. You went to a doctor’s appointment the day before, they don’t remember going, it’s not just a matter of I misplaced something I had a couple minutes ago. If they suddenly can’t remember somebody’s name that’s a family member, things like that can have you question what’s going on. If it’s a matter of they don’t remember if it’s two o’clock, that’s not a big deal, but if they’re not sure, when they look at the clock and they take a minute. Are they having trouble processing their thoughts?

 

Warning Signs for Seniors: Personal Care

Ryan:
All right. The next of the warning signs for seniors that we’ll talk about is a two in one. It’s if we’re noticing that there’s issues with personal care, cleanliness, odor, that all leads to infrequent showering or brushing of the teeth. Whatever type of personal care somebody needs to do in the morning. That can be a big trigger that something’s gone awry. Before you talk, I remember my mom had a very close friend that ended up having dementia and being in a home for that. She swore up and down every day of the week that she didn’t need to take a shower because she just took a shower. This woman was found in her home, before she was transferred to a facility, having not taken a shower in weeks, if not months. What’s your experience with personal care and related warning signs for seniors, Janet?

Janet:
I think that odor is a great key to a lot of things when it comes to warning signs for seniors. You enter a room and you can just sense whether there’s body odor, whether someone is incontinent, and maybe it’s a matter of they can’t get to the bathroom fast enough. You go to sit in the favorite sofa in the corner and you sense something there. Someone, not showering can be also, just like everything else, could be for a variety of reasons. They could be fearful of not being steady in the bathroom. You always hear a lot of accidents happen in bathrooms. With dementia, some people develop a fear of water so the idea of taking a shower or bath becomes a very fearful situation.

Things like that you can be indirect a little bit. Take a peek in the bathroom and if you find that nothing’s been touched and they say, “Oh, no. I’m fine.” It also could be a matter of, if someone’s living alone, it can be depression and they just don’t care about their personal hygiene as much. That’s as much a reason to look for help for them as anything else. If they’re just pining away, that can be an issue.

Ryan:
Additionally, just to add to that, it doesn’t mean that somebody needs to be taking a shower a day, like you and I do when we’re going out. If somebody has a sedentary life where they’re reading most days or watching TV and they’re moving their biggest … Biggest decision of the day is what to eat. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to be taking a shower every day. They might be able to take a shower every third day and that works for them, but it’s finding somebody that their routine has drastically changed from instead of every day, to now, once a week. What’s going on with that, Mom? What’s happened here?

Janet:
Exactly, and in fact, a lot of older people, taking a shower every day like many people do, is not so good for the elderly. Their skin’s getting drier and they don’t have the same oils and whatnot. The idea of washing their face, washing under their arms, and washing their private areas, if you will, if their tending to that and then maybe not getting in the shower, that’s okay, but that also, if they’re doing an okay job with that, you shouldn’t have the body odor that would raise attention.

 

Warning Signs for Seniors: Unopened Mail

Ryan:
That’s very true. Another area that we’ve thought is a big warning sign for seniors, and certainly this is definitely pointing towards memory issues, is when you have stacks of unopened mail or an overflowing mailbox. Now, what, in your experience, has this been attributed to? I think it’s kind of a dementia red flag, but what do you think of these warning signs for seniors, Janet?

Janet:
It can be dementia, it can be a depression, sometimes it’s a matter of the spouse always took care of it and this is a whole new world to the person getting this mail and they don’t know what to do with it.

Ryan:
That’s a good point.

Janet:
There are some people that think if they put it in a drawer, it’s okay. The top of the desk looks great, but there’s an awful lot in the drawer. If in that pile you see things that say final notice, then you probably have something you should look into.

Ryan:
Absolutely. 90% of it’s junk anyways, that 10% is what you’re looking for, but without a doubt, stacks of unopened mail or hidden mail are definitely a sign of somebody’s needing help with something.

 

Warning Signs for Seniors: Medication

Then, staying maybe with forgetfulness, is the forgetfulness with medications and there can be many different reasons people don’t want to take their medications, but usually it’s one of the red flags for warning signs for seniors that need help.  They’re sick of doing it, they don’t feel that they need it anymore, or it can be as serious to dementia. Right? It can range a number of different reasons.

Janet:
I think with a lot of people, especially if they had not had any kind of home care, they probably, in many cases, have never used any kind of a pill box. That’s something that’s very common to anybody in the healthcare business, but if not, it maybe be a dexterity issue, they can’t get the bottles open. Even these non-safety caps are hard to open. It can be as simple as that. Again, it can be a depression and one thing that can cover all of the topics that we’ve mentioned today, is if an elderly person gets a urinary tract infection, which is very, very common because they often don’t drink enough fluid and they sit around a lot, that’s an infection that can alter your thought process.

It can be like a Jekyll and Hyde and they behave in a totally different manner than they normally would. Sometimes, it’s just a trip to the doctor for a checkup, like a car, checking under the hood, but as far as medications, that and eating are your two biggest concerns really. You don’t want them to poison themselves with bad food, or starve to death, or not take a medication that could help either their emotional well-being, or their heart, or whatever other medical issues they may have.

Ryan:
Absolutely. I mean, I know that on a personal level with you and I, with this job and business we’ve had a couple of cases, and even in the last year and a half, where caregivers were ready to walk off the case because of the way that they were being treated by the client, only to come to realize that it was a urinary tract infection. Two and a half, three days later, of antibiotics, they were back to being a great, friendly person. We had to kind of walk a few of the caregivers off the ledge and say no, we know that this is a UTI, just give it a few days and we’ll be back to normal. Then, we get back to normal and then the caregivers know the next time it starts acting up, well, it’s more than likely a UTI.

Janet:
That’s right and that’s something that comes on quick and, given medication, it turns around quick, too. That’s the good news about that kind of thing. That’s really, really common with the elderly.

Wrapping it Up: Warning Signs for Seniors Needing Help

Ryan:
Absolutely. That will wrap up today’s episode of warning signs for seniors needing help and warning signs that your mom or your dad is going to be needing care. We thank you very much for joining us. Janet, thank you, as always, for your insight. Our episodes come out every Tuesday. Again, thanks for listening and you can hear us next Tuesday. @mwhomecare