Helping Older Loved Ones Age Gracefully

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Many adults now find themselves caring for aging parents. While we want to stay in our homes as long as we can, as our parents get older, we need to keep an eye out for signs they might need a little help, either at home or somewhere else.

Stormont-Vail HealthCare's Senior Diagnostic Unit sees firsthand what can be a touchy issue for families. Social worker Lynette Joe-Beck says it can be difficult to broach the subject with parents, who we've always treated with respect. Our functions are bound to change as we age, but, Joe-Beck says, if an elderly loved one shows signs like becoming isolated, not eating, acting irritable or confused, or changing their sleeping or grooming habits, it's time for a talk.

Joe-Beck suggests if family members can find a way to gently ask questions like why the person doesn't want to go out grocery shopping or out to lunch like they used to do.

When the changes impact their quality of life, the Senior Diagnostic Unit aims to find out why it's happening. Charge Nurse Linda Opat says family members want to have an explanation of why changes are occurring in their loved one.

Opat says, for a typical evaluation, a patient will stay in the unit five to seven days. She says staff need that much time to observe for themselves what family members tell them they are seeing. A person will get a medical checkup, psychiatric evaluation, medication review and memory loss tests. Social workers and occupational therapists also will be involved.

Opat says it could be a person is having a medication reaction, is depressed or is simply afraid of falling since they can't move like they used to. It also could be a progressive condition like dementia or alzheimers.

No matter the answer, Opat says it's important to know. She says having the information and knowing what to expect will help family members help their loved ones live as independently and with as much quality of life as possible.

Sometimes, part of the solution won't be found in a pill. Joe-Beck suggests making it a point to find activities in which the older loved one can be involved and still feel that they're an important, contributing part of the family - no matter what their age.

If you notice behavioral changes in an elderly loved one, talk to their primary care provider to see if further evaluation might be warranted.


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