Each month, we’ll feature a post from Bobbi Jo Curty, our team’s veteran family navigator and an experienced geriatric social worker. She’ll offer expert insights and actionable advice on a number of relevant caregiving topics. Today, she shares the signs someone needs more support at home, plus next steps.
Throughout my years of working as a social worker in long-term care, I’ve had ongoing conversations with many community residents and their caregivers. But this is a topic that’s rarely discussed among them.
Why? Most people do not willingly admit they need extra help with daily tasks. No one wants to have control taken away. However, there may come a time when someone you care for will need more support at home. So how do you know when that time is now? What kind of support is available? And how do you actually get the help? Here are the top signs to watch for.
One obvious sign is your loved one no longer seems to keep up with their own appearance, especially if this is out of their norm. You may begin to notice their hair out of place, or wrinkled and stained clothing. But it can quickly escalate to an unkempt and disheveled look. Think of it this way: if a person is showing outward signs of being unable to care for themselves, how likely is it that they are struggling to maintain other areas of their life as well?
Mail can certainly be overwhelming — we all know how fast it can pile up if you don’t stay on top of it! However, the key point here is seeing piles of unopened mail at your loved one’s home. This can be an indicator that he or she is having difficulty completing certain tasks. Having unopened mail is not the end of the world, however, this minor task can lead to other more serious tasks being incomplete, like balancing the checkbook or avoiding fraud and scams.
While working in nursing homes, I have experienced my fair share of odors walking in and out of resident rooms, whether good or bad. An unpleasant odor is never a good sign. Whether your loved one lives in a facility or in their home, if you are immediately hit with a stench when you enter their living space, this is not normal. Sniff around to find the culprit. Your loved one may not even realize there is an odor, and they may not even realize it could be due to issues such as incontinence, spoiled food, etc. This is another indicator that your loved one may be struggling to maintain certain areas of their life — such as hygiene or managing their food appropriately.
Certain levels of forgetfulness are normal. However, when forgetfulness turns into something more frequent, especially when your loved one is consistently unable to recall information or an event, it may point to a deeper issue. Cognitive decline tends to begin with subtle occurrences usually observed with forgetfulness, but can lead to more significant issues with problem-solving, confusion, and poor judgment.
Loss of Interest
People of all ages, particularly older adults, experience many levels of change and loss in the course of a lifetime. These compounding losses can trigger a sense of apathy, i.e. if they no longer care about meeting with their weekly breakfast group, or they no longer enjoy their lifelong gardening hobby. Signs of loneliness and depression should not be ignored. In my experience, increasing socialization and added support (as well as possible medication changes) can help to improve one’s mood.
So what’s the next step to actually get support?
- Speak with your loved one’s doctor. They can assess your loved one properly to rule out any underlying medical issues. They can assess for decline in cognition or evaluate levels of depression. Once some of these factors are addressed, your doctor can even provide a prescription to begin support at home through a home care agency.
- Call your county’s Area Agency on Aging (AAA) office. You can find them on your county’s webpage, or via Eldercare.gov. They offer a variety of programs and services for your loved one and for you as a caregiver. This is a resource that cannot be missed!
- Always communicate with the person in your care. Discuss the issues and concerns you’ve observed. Try to approach this topic from a compassionate perspective that allows the individual to identify his or her needs. If they see and agree there is a problem, they are more likely to participate in a solution, which allows them to keep as much control as they can — even with the ongoing changes in their lives.