Signs indicating seniors need assistance

February 25, 2012

Coping, Seniors

Consult a professional to conduct an assessment. Using an outside party can make it less personal and less threatening.

by Kim McCreery — 

Inevitably, there will come a time for the vast majority of us when we can no longer maintain healthy and safe lives without the assistance of outside help. And more often than not, the real issue is about the loss of independence.

For many seniors, accepting outside help is a scary proposition. This is when a loved one needs to intervene with tact and help steer the senior toward a path of acceptance that will not only provide safety, but foster independence, as well.

The first step, however, comes before finding additional care: the assessment and identification of signs that care is, in fact, a necessity. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are key warning signs that in-home care is needed:

Weight loss — Losing weight without trying could be a sign that something is wrong. For the elderly, weight loss could be related to many factors, including difficulty cooking, loss of taste or smell, or other underlying conditions, such as malnutrition, dementia or depression.

Personal grooming and housekeeping changes — Failure to keep up with daily routines — such as bathing, teeth brushing and other basic grooming — could indicate health problems, such as dementia, depression or physical impairments. Any big changes in the way things are done around the house also can provide clues to health.

Increased injury and safety concerns — Take a look around the home, keeping an eye out for any red flags. Does the senior have difficulty navigating a narrow stairway? Has she fallen recently? Is she able to read directions on medication containers? Is there adequate lighting for nighttime trips to the bathroom?

Mood changes — Note moods and significant mood changes. Drastically different moods or outlooks could be a sign of depression or other health concerns.

Mobility — Muscle weakness, joint problems and other age-related changes can make it difficult to move around, as well. If the senior has become unsteady on his feet, there may be a risk of falling — which can be a major cause of disability.

In addition to the signs above, there are other common warning bells that might go off and things to look for in the home.

Hoarding — Very little is understood about why older adults hoard; however, it is often associated with dementia. It will be obvious if the household contains large quantities of saved items like newspapers, old clothing, bags, books, mail, notes, lists — all of which have been used and are no longer necessary.

Struggling to keep finances in order — The state of an elderly person’s finances is another indication that help may be needed inside the home. If mail is piling up unopened, it can indicate that paying the bills and taking care of day-to-day finances is becoming overwhelming. Or, if she is not handling money the way she usually does (i.e., forgetting how much cash she has, spending recklessly, gambling, etc.), she may need help.

Tasks that once seemed mundane can become unmanageable if a senior’s physical or mental state is deteriorating. When approaching a loved one about these signs, remember to be sensitive and use motivational rather than judgmental language.

Consult a professional to conduct an assessment. Using an outside party can make it less personal and less threatening. Working with a good caregiving staff can also help you identify important issues, as well as offer assistance with daily activities and needs such as bathing, dressing, meals and companionship.


Kim McCreery is founder of At Home Solutions, a privately owned agency that provides in-home care services in Maricopa, Pinal and Gila counties. They have offices in Mesa (480-545-1170); Apache Junction (480-984-2700); Casa Grande (520-876-5470); and Globe, Ariz. (928-425-6200).

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 6, Dec 2010/Jan 2011.

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