If you’re a long distance family caregiver, you may have a few extended visits with your aging parents throughout the year. These visits provide an excellent opportunity to watch for signs of possible decline in their physical and/or cognitive abilities. Sometimes a long distance caregiver notices things that a spouse or an adult child who lives nearby may not pick up on.
Below is a checklist to use when visiting your aging parents or other older relatives. This list can also be used by adult children living near their parents. It’s an all-year-round checklist.
Personal Care and Hygiene
Are they bathed and well-groomed?
Hair cut, washed and styled?
Teeth brushed and breath smelling good?
Are their clothes well-maintained or are there stains or tears? Are they wearing the same clothes several days in a row? Do their clothes fit properly?
Has there been any unusual weight loss or gain?
Are they eating healthy meals or have their eating habits changed?
Check if their hearing and vision abilities are the same.
Are they moving as well as before? Is their gait regular? Do they seem weak or off balance when they walk? Are they holding on to furniture or walls as they move around their home?
Do they seem less energetic?
How are they sleeping? Have their sleep habits changed? Are they sleeping more or less than in previous years?
Do they have bruising or swollen legs, ankles or feet?
Do they need help dressing, bathing, or using the toilet?
Are they taking their medications as prescribed? Are they clear on what the medications are for and what the required dosages are? Have they kept up with refills as needed?
Do they seem to you like the Mom and Dad you remember or does something seem different or “off?” Listen to your instincts.
Are they repeating stories or questions? Are they forgetful?
Are they crying or getting angry more easily? Are they fearful of things that didn’t worry them before?
Have they lost interest in activities and/or hobbies they used to enjoy?
Are they staying home more and limiting social engagements?
Do you notice signs of increased alcohol use?
How is their driving? (Do a “ride along” to check on it!) Do their reflexes seem slower? Have they gotten lost going to familiar places? Have they stopped driving at night?
Are there new dents or dings in the car or garage? Can they explain where they came from?
Does the house look and smell clean? Are the linens fresh? Is the “deep cleaning” being done to the house?
Is the yard tidy and well-groomed?
Are pets and/or house plants being taken care of adequately?
Are the refrigerator, pantry, counter tops and cupboards clean?
Is the food old or expired? Check the dates on the milk, cottage cheese, etc.
Has food been left out on the counter that should have been refrigerated?
Is the house cluttered? Are garbage and trash accumulating?
Is the mail piling up and not opened? Are newspapers being read and discarded in a timely manner?
Always enjoy the precious time visiting with your aging parents and family. Use this time together as a “reconnaissance mission,” observe them subtly and makes notes to yourself (writing them down later, not in front of them) about any concerns you see or suspect. Unless you walk into a life-threatening health or medical situation, holidays are not the time to “fix” anything. Keep the mood pleasant and create happy family memories for everyone.
Don’t ignore changes but also don’t overreact. While any of the warning signs above could mean your parents are declining and not coping with daily living as well as before, they may or may not be serious. Some things could be easily corrected.
A next step may be to talk over your concerns with any siblings or other close family members. Perhaps some assistance at home is an option? Perhaps a doctor’s visit is in order? Often, further assessment is needed before you jump in and try to make major changes that either aren’t needed or aren’t welcomed by your aging parents.
Think “baby steps” but stay on top of the situation, don’t ignore it.