In this issue: Helping patients help their loved ones grow old gracefully

 

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Helping patients help their loved ones grow old gracefully

As healthcare providers, you’ve likely heard the saying, “Getting old is no picnic!” As patients age, they may begin to struggle with memory, movement, isolation and self-care. And for the 43.5 million Americans helping an aging relative, long-term care or assisted living may seem like the obvious choice when their loved one’s health begins to deteriorate.

However, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP®), the vast majority of seniors—90 percent, to be exact—wish to stay in their own home as long as possible. In fact, a National Council on Aging (NCOA) survey found 77 percent intend to live out the rest of their lives at home. Only 36 percent thought they’d have the need for long-term care as they aged.

There’s no one right answer because each situation is as unique as the person experiencing it. But these points of consideration, which can be shared with your patients and their loved ones, may help guide the decision-making process.

Is home the safest place?

Here are some things patients, caretakers and family members can look for to determine if help is needed.

  • Forgetfulness: Forgetting to pay bills, leaving food cooking on the stove or overlooking important dates, such as birthdays and holidays, can indicate memory trouble. Some degree of memory loss can be normal—and if that’s the case, something as simple as a dry erase calendar to keep track of dates and deadlines can help. But when forgetfulness becomes more than just happenstance, it can be indicative of more serious problems, such as dementia or other types of cognitive impairment.
  • Medication management issues: Is a patient able to read and understand medication instructions? Is the patient properly taking all prescribed medications? Sometimes, all it takes is a pill organizer or med-tracker to improve the situation, but if medication management remains an issue, health and well-being could be at stake.
  • Frequent falls or burns: Difficulty with movement and balance can lead to falls, bruises, burns, or worse yet … the unthinkable. If this is happening, a patient may need a walker, cane or some assistance around the house. Home assessments can be performed to determine recommended safety measures, but simple modifications—from installing railings and grab bars to tacking down loose carpeting and rugs—can enhance safety. If assessments are part of your service offering, imprint contact details on first-aid kits or ice packs.
  • Failure to keep up with housework and self care: Failure to keep up with daily activities, such as body washing, teeth brushing and other simple household chores, can be a sign that health is declining. A visiting nurse or housekeeper may be able to help. But if something more serious is occurring, your patients may need to consider whether or not they’re healthy enough to remain at home.
  • Weight loss: Sometimes weight loss occurs as changes in mobility make day-to-day tasks, like grocery shopping and cooking, more difficult. This may lead to the consumption of less nutritious foods—and sometimes even malnutrition. Of course, patients experiencing unexplained weight loss should be seen by a healthcare professional to rule out an underlying condition.
  • Isolation: As a patient’s ability to get out of the house declines, he or she risks isolation and loneliness. According to a decades-long study by the University College London, isolation and loneliness can shorten a person’s life.

If your patient is experiencing some or all of these symptoms, it may be time for that individual to consider making some modifications. Moving into an assisted living or long-term care community may be necessary. No matter the final decision, it’s never an easy choice for anyone involved, but hopefully these tips can help in the process.

“3 Early Signs Your Aging Loved One May Need More Care.” Care Conversations. N.p., 21 Feb. 2014. Web. Retrieved 24 Sept. 2015.

Stevenson, Sarah. “Dangers of Seniors Living Alone.” A Place for Mom. N.p., 17 Sept. 2015. Web. Retrieved 24 Sept. 2015.

Anderson, Jeff. “Assisted Living Preferred Care Option for Seniors Who Can’t Live Alone.” A Place for Mom. N.p., 23 Jan. 2015. Web. Retrieved 24 Sept. 2015.

“Aging Parents: 8 Warning Signs of Health Problems.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, n.d. Web. Retrieved 24 Sept. 2015.

“Assisted Living – Signs Why Your Parents Need Help.” MedBlogger Code. N.p., 26 Aug. 2015. Web. Retrieved 24 Sept. 2015.

 

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