Is it time for your loved one to move into assisted living?
Independence is sacred. We spend our entire lives trying to achieve it; exploring boundaries as children, breaking rules as teenagers, and finally moving out as young adults. Even into adulthood we do everything we can to maximize our independence, which is why it can be incredibly difficult when the possibility of moving into assisted living arises. Many seniors are reluctant to make the transition for fear of losing the control and freedom of living on their own. However, depending on their mental and physical health the advantages of living alone may be outweighed by the risks. If you’re unsure about whether your loved one should consider moving into assisted living, these are some important signs to look out for.
Physical and mental health
- Has their diet or eating habits changed? Sometimes as cooking becomes more difficult they might opt for simpler dishes or buy more premade meals. Also look out for weight loss or gain, as these could indicate that they’re forgetting when to eat or stop eating.
- Do they have any injuries? Slips and falls are common among the elderly, so it’s important to take note of cuts, bruises, burns, and other wounds that would arise from mobility and balance issues. Similarly, if they’re still driving and have been more erratic lately (drifting into other lanes, running lights, etc), they might be experiencing problems with their vision and judgement.
- Have they ever wandered or gotten lost? Sometimes seniors have difficulty remembering where they are or where they’re going. This can be quite dangerous, especially if they’re still able to drive.
- Are they taking their medications properly? Your loved one might be at serious risk if they no longer understand how or when to take their medicine, or if they fail to refill their prescriptions.
- Do they have any chronic health conditions? If so, are they getting worse? Deteriorating health is another signal that it may be best for your loved one to receive more constant care.
- Is their hygiene declining? Tasks like brushing teeth and bathing can become a challenge for seniors. They might have trouble combing their hair or dressing themselves, so look out for signs like body odor, disheveled hair or clothing, or wearing the same outfit or loose-fitting clothing repeatedly.
- Do they still enjoy hobbies and visit with friends? Cognitive decline is often signaled by a disinterest in leisure and social activities. If your loved one is spending more time alone or perpetually remains indoors, their mental health might be suffering.
- Has their mood or personality changed? Any shift in personality is cause for concern, whether it’s an increase in sadness, irritability, aloofness, anger, rudeness, etc. Watch for uncharacteristic behaviors, taking note of any possible triggers to avoid further upsetting them.
Household and daily activities
- How tidy is their home? Housework is exhausting, and it only gets harder as you age. Check to see they’re keeping up with their chores. If dust is accumulating on the mantle or laundry is piling up, it could be a sign that your loved one is becoming overwhelmed.
- Is anything in disrepair? Are the pets fed and the plants watered? In addition to the previous point, you should continuously look for evidence of neglect both inside and outside the house. It’s important to stay observant. Don’t wait for things to fall into ruins before you address the issue; and certainly be keenly aware of the welfare of any pet.
- Can they safely operate appliances? We all forget to unplug the iron or turn off the stove once in awhile, but this is a major warning sign if it becomes consistent.
- Are they reading their mail and paying bills on time? If the mailbox is overflowing or unopened envelopes and unread newspapers are strewn around, your loved one might need help. Ask them which magazine and newspaper subscriptions can be cancelled, and keep an eye out for multiple letters from the same charity. Sometimes charities reach out to previous donors, which can be a problem when an elderly person has memory loss and continues to donate unwittingly.
- Are they leaving doors open/unlocked? Your loved one might forget to close and lock doors, which could be a sign that they require supervision.
- Is there evidence of fire or flooding? If you notice any burn marks or water damage, it might be because your loved one is forgetting to unplug an appliance or leaving the water running. Mistakes like this can have grave consequences.
- Have ramps and/or railings been installed? These are basic safety precautions that can facilitate mobility and reduce the risk of falling.
- Is there an emergency alarm system? If so, make sure it’s easily-accessible and your loved one understands how to use it.
- Who is their emergency contact? Ideally, this person (or group of people) needs to be consistently available and located nearby so they can respond as quickly as possible.
There’s no easy answer
Beyond asking the questions above you should also find out how other friends and family members feel about moving your loved one into assisted living. It’ll undoubtedly be a tricky conversation, but it’s crucial to ask other people involved what they’ve observed and if they have any reason for concern. A caregiver’s opinion is particularly valuable, so if someone is already helping, ask them how it’s been going. Are they managing okay or feeling completely stressed out? Pay attention to all of this information as it could indicate that your loved one needs more constant, professional help.
Eldercare, for many people, is an emotionally and physically draining journey. The associated shifts in relationships and responsibilities can take a toll on any family, and without the proper resources it can all feel very overwhelming. We’ve compiled an online library of expert-led videos, podcasts, and tip sheets to help families cope. Our library covers topics like estate planning and caregiver stress management, among others. To access these resources simply log into your LifeSpeak account or ask your HR department to contact us.
Also published on Medium.