December 13, 2011

As soon as the front door opens to welcome friends and family in, even before hugs are exchanged, an unexpected disheveled appearance of a loved one may be noticed. Failure to keep up with daily hygiene routines such as bathing, tooth brushing and other basic grooming could indicate health problems such as dementia, depression, or physical impairments. Inspect to see if clothes are clean and if the individual appears to be maintaining good grooming habits.

At the dinner table, appetites may appear to be healthy during the holidays, but noticeable weight loss without trying could be a sign that something’s wrong. For the elderly, weight loss could be related to many factors, including:

Difficulty cooking. The person could be having trouble finding the energy to cook, grasping the tools necessary to prepare a meal, reading labels or directions on food products, or getting groceries into the home. Check the pantry to see if foods are fresh and stocked appropriately; assess pots and pans for ease of use and heaviness.
Loss of taste or smell. Some loss of taste and smell is natural with aging, especially after age 60. In other cases, illness or medication contributes to the loss of these senses. The person might not be interested in eating if food doesn’t smell or taste as good as it used to.
Underlying conditions. Sometimes weight loss is a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as malnutrition, dementia, depression, or even cancer.

Additionally, any big changes in the way things are done around the house could provide clues to health. For example, scorched pots could mean forgetting about food cooking on the stove. Neglected housework could be a sign of depression, dementia, or other problems. Check to see if the lights are working, the heat is on, the bathrooms are clean, or if clutter is blocking the walkways of the home.

Safety issues around the house and mental attitude are key indicators in determining if the effects of aging or changes in health require additional care. If safety is a concern, ask your loved one the following questions.

  • Do you have difficulty navigating a narrow stairway?
  • Have you fallen recently?
  • Are you able to read directions on medication containers?
  • Is there adequate lighting for nighttime trips to the bathroom?

Follow this link for conversation starters to discuss home care with seniors!