Visiting Elders this Holiday Season: A few red flags that may indicate they are needing home support

When you visit the elders in your family, it is as if a movie is playing out and the same old tape just keeps playing regardless of the present situation. Are you blinded by the past and cannot see the present issues the elders may be having? Do you visit once a year, every several years, or just when there is a crisis? How are your elders navigating their daily lives?

Regardless of the age of elders, the façade of living a serene life and the illusion of reality that may play out during the holidays; there are a few red flags to seek out.

If their health is declining you may find:

Clothes strewn across the home:  men can have various pants or under garments all around the house as they have prostate issues and just let them drop where they are without knowing what to do with dirty clothes or how to launder them. Finding clothes in odd places is also a memory alert, a hiding issue, or a hygiene issue.

Diapers around the house: men and women may need help with incontinence but it may be something more than that. It can be lack of interest in urine or bowel functions, lack of mobility, lack of memory to know to go to the bathroom or where it might be, or an infection that is not treated.

Cob webs around windows and doors:  an indicator that windows and doors have not been opened. This is very important as it is an indicator of opening the home for fresh air. A door not opened may also signal the elder may not have left the home for an extended period of time and just not going to tell anyone. While the windows and doors are important for fresh air, they also tell if the person is able to open a window, if they have an issue with access through a door, if they are scared and hiding in the home, or if they just don’t know where the doors and windows are.  Important to note, if you open a window or door, be sure to close it and lock it because they will not be able to do that on their own if they have not been doing it for months or years.

A very full freezer and refrigerator:  it does not mean they have lots of food to eat, it may mean they are purchasing food or food is given to them and it is not getting rotated or disposed of.  It also means; they may not be eating. Old food can kill an elder. Old food is very dangerous when you have no clue when it came into the home or where it came from. The concept of hording food so they do not have to go out is very real, also is the concept that if they have food, then all is well.  The reality is that food is just a marker and indicator that something is wrong.

Many bottles of bug sprays:  may potentially mean their home needs a good cleaning and pest control for a bit.  Clogged sink disposals, food around and in couches or chairs, and dishes not washed but rinsed and re used may be an issue. Sometimes elders feel they are itching all the time and they have ‘bug bites’. It can be fleas, mosquitoes, bed bugs, dust mites or various other bugs and they just have no clue what is biting them. Elders with memory issues and hygiene issues may even spray the bug spray on themselves to stop the issue and not take a bath or cleanse themselves.

Air fresheners:  hiding the body issues of cleaning themselves, hiding clean home issues, stagnant air in the home, or physical health symptoms. If the home is not aired out, cleaned and refreshed naturally, the use of air fresheners seems to be the next best thing. If a woman cannot clean the home and the man smells the item, he thinks the home is cleaned; but the woman may not want to say that she just cannot lift herself or cleaning items to do the work.

Lots of mail around or mail not checked; this is a red flag. There are so many reasons for this; mobility to check mail, eyes to read it, money to pay bills, or memory to know what it is. Get this read immediately.

Air conditioning and heater filters not changed; this is a health hazard and fire hazard. Rarely will elders take care of this and they really have no clue why they should. Hire someone to care for the appliances twice a year; no questions asked.

What to do:

  • Make a list of what you see if out of place
  • Make a Dr. Appointment for all elders and go with them to speak to the Dr.
  • Do NOT clean or change an elder’s home without them being present and engaged in the process!! If you have failing memory, this may cause huge issues and put them in danger when things are different.
  • Replace all food items in the cupboard and refrigerator on a six month basis; do NOT get what you think they want, replace the items with the same items, just new ones.
  • Never make changes according to YOUR principles or beliefs; it is their life and their experience, not yours!

While this is not a complete list, it is a hot list that really highlights the dangers and red flags that can help you see your elder needs help and will not ask or receive it. Their life depends on it, get them help and stick to it. Check on the services and people you hire routinely and do not push off the care of an elder on people you put into place.  It is up to you to care for your elders.

Dr. Jeanette offers elder care sessions to discuss what is going on, what a red flag is, and how to take care of loved ones regardless of their age or health status. Reach out for a session, send a request on the contact us page of the Personal Advocate website. All requests will be answered within 12 hours.