The American Association of Retired Persons, more commonly known as AARP, is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to helping prepare all people to live their best life post retirement. AARP advocates for things like better Social Security and equitable and affordable healthcare while providing trustworthy information to seniors across the country. Recently, the organization released an assessment guide to help people decide when they might need care and to what extent. Join our team of dedicated caregivers as we summarize their tools and share the most important information.
How Can You Assess the Need for Care?
“Sometimes an older adult’s need for additional help is obvious. It could be that he or she is having a hard time getting to appointments, seems confused by instructions or perhaps isn’t paying bills on time.” Explains Barbara Stepko of AARP, continuing “More often, though, the change happens gradually.”
We’ve reviewed the dangers and risks associated with falling and have covered ways to improve the accessibility of your home for aging loved ones, but how do you know when to start? Stepko explains the easiest way to test anyone’s mobility is the Timed Up-and-Go Test. Have your loved one sit in a chair and stand 10 feet away. When you say “go” have them stand up from the chair, walk at a normal pace to you, turn around, walk back to the chair, and sit down again. On average, people who take 12 seconds or more to complete this test are at high risk of falling and action should be taken.
Evaluating Mental Health
Seniors are more likely to suffer from undiagnosed depression and dementia because it can be difficult to spot in older adults. Katherine O’Brien, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine explains that “People who have depression may not concentrate as well, and that may sometimes look like memory loss and dementia — we call that pseudodementia.” But it’s important to be able to distinguish the two and act accordingly.
To assess your loved one, the easiest thing you can do is ask. Stepko suggests openly asking your loved one if they are feeling sad or anxious about something. This is especially important for older individuals living with chronic illness or mobility issues as they are more likely to develop depression. Consult with your loved one’s primary care provider if they mention these feelings or if you are noticing gaps in memory.
Evaluating Administrative Capabilities
Stepko explains that as people age, they may not stay on top of administrative tasks like they used to. When you visit your loved one, look around for red flags like stacks of unopened mail, unpaid bills, uncashed checks, or even key home or legal documents that haven’t been dealt with. If you notice any of these, ask your loved one if they are having trouble managing their paperwork or what might be preventing them from doing so.
Stepko shared the staggering statistic that seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years. Multiple accidents or a number of tickets means it’s time to have a talk. The best way to evaluate their driving habits is to tag along for a ride and stay observant.
Do you notice any close calls? Does your loved one seem to get lost on familiar roads? If so, it might be time for a medical evaluation. It could be from poor vision or limited mobility which can be addressed with some simple adjustments. If it is time to hang up the keys, help look for other transportation options like public transit.
Evaluating Everyday Life
You may notice that your loved one’s appearance is changing or that they are no longer following their regular habits. Shifts in overall appearance or lifestyle may be an indicator that your loved one needs extra help. Begin by evaluating your loved one’s appearance. Have you noticed a sizable shift in weight? Are their clothes clean? Have they gone without shaving or maintaining their hair? Next, review their home – are they withdrawing from chores or their favorite hobbies? Are they starting to hoard items, or do they have soiled sheets? Check their refrigerator to see if they have spoiled food. If you notice that any of these things are off, it’s likely time to look into some additional assistance.
Evaluating Their Medications
Seniors may be taking five or more medications on any given day, and at times, they could be taking more or less than what is medically necessary. Review your loved one’s prescription bottles to make sure they are being taken as directed.
See if your loved one is using or would be open to using a pill organizer or if they are keeping a list of all the medications they take. Evaluate their behavior – if they show signs of fatigue or depression, consult their primary care provider about possible drug interactions.
Once you’ve evaluated your aging loved one, it may be time for action. Making an informed decision about the type of care your loved one wants starts with a conversation. Ask what their wishes are and approach the topic with open-mindedness. Express concern, not judgement. It’s likely that your aging loved one could benefit from some extra in-home help. Contact your local ameriCARE to connect with qualified, compassionate care specialists and find your loved one’s perfect match.