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Recognizing physical and mental declines in elderly loved ones 

And knowing when an elder needs outside help

click to enlarge Check in with seniors to provide companionship and make sure everything is OK.

Check in with seniors to provide companionship and make sure everything is OK.

It isn't always easy to recognize physical and mental declines in elderly loved ones, and many seniors won't bring them up for fear of losing their independence — or because they don't recognize they're in trouble.

  Madelynn Fellon, a referral specialist at Dependable Care Services, a caregiver referral business, says for many elderly people, everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, preparing food and personal hygiene become complex, sometimes dangerous ventures.

  "Getting food at the grocery store is really a daunting task if you think about it: driving to the store, gathering all the food, taking it out of the basket at the checkout, loading the bags into the car, unloading them at home, putting the food away and then preparing food. Just having someone there to do that for [them] ... prepare food and encourage them to eat ... makes a big difference."

  Dependable Care and other businesses like it provide caregivers who come to a person's home for two to 24 hours and help with whatever tasks are needed, such as bathing, dressing, food preparation, house cleaning, laundry, medication management and more. Fellon says some elderly people need companionship, a reliable person who will keep them company and take them places.

  "Loneliness is a big thing," she says. "The thing [many of us] don't realize is that as we get older, our friends start to pass away and you get lonely."

  Caregivers can provide continuity and keep the family informed. "We have some clients who have been with their caregiver for years and years," Fellon says. "Sometimes the caregiver becomes part of the family, especially if the kids don't live in town.

  "We feel like any elderly person could potentially need help ... even if it's just simple tasks like getting out of the shower [without falling] ... or getting dressed." 

Here are some tips for recognizing when an elder needs help provided by experts at Dependable Care, AARP, A Place for Mom and When Mom & Dad Need Help by Mike Campbell.

  &• Balance issues: Do they lose their balance when you bear-hug them? Do they have trouble getting up from a chair, walking steady on level ground or moving from place to place?

  • Behavior changes: lack of motivation, doesn't return phone calls, becomes verbally or physically abusive

  • Bruises could mean they have fallen

  • Burns on skin and burn marks on pots and pans signal cooking has become dangerous

 • Cannot recall names of familiar people or objects

  • Carpet stains from dropping and spilling

  • Changes in mood/extreme mood swings

 • Confusion such as dressing inappropriately for the weather or occasion, having difficulty performing familiar tasks

  • Dents or scratches on car

  • Depressed temperament/ low energy

 • Dizziness

  • Forgetfulness; misses appointments and events

  • Frequently gets lost walking or driving in familiar areas

 • House has an odor or isn't clean

  • House or yard needs maintenance

  • Impaired reasoning skills

  • Mail and papers go unopened and/or bills go unpaid

  • Medication mistakes: forgets to take medication, takes the wrong dose or forgets to fill or refill prescriptions

  • Memory lapses

 • Poor hygiene

  • Quits hobbies and favorite activities

  • Reluctant to leave house

  • Sleeps long periods

  • Spoiled food or no food in the refrigerator; expired cans of food in the cupboard

  • Unable to complete a sentence

  • Urine odor (can be a sign of incontinence)

  • Weight loss

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