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Considerations for Caregivers

By Arthur N. Gottlieb

Caregiving is not for everyone. Remember, it’s not about you. If the relationship is too emotionally charged or patience is not your best virtue, find someone else to take over the primary role of caregiver.

It is important to reflect upon your motivations for being a caregiver and to make an honest assessment of your limitations.

As a caregiver you may at times feel powerless and sad. But an experience laden with difficulty may also provide opportunities to strengthen relationships with loved ones, and for the development of one’s own personal and spiritual growth.

About Visits
Focus on the quality of interactions with a loved one, not on the quantity.

Consistency and predictability of visitations are important, especially for the homebound.

Communication Skills
Learn the healer’s art of “bearing witness.” This means listening empathically and suppressing the urge to intervene with solutions.

When speaking to someone in bed or in a wheelchair, sit down or otherwise lower yourself so that you are at the same eye level as they are. This will distinguish you from others who remain standing, essentially looking and speaking down to them with the unspoken but inherent power differential this implies.

Choose your battles wisely. Attempting to address an irrational situation with rationality is generally futile, and will increase conflict with no resolution

The hearing impaired are often too prideful to admit that they haven’t heard most of what you just said, and are hopeful that they can eventually figure it out.

Those with mild cognitive impairment are still quite capable of comprehension, but the thought process may have slowed down a little. Be patient and speak slowly.

Restoring Dignity
Asking for a senior’s opinion about a non-provocative issue may offer them an opportunity to feel respected and still relevant.

At the dinner table when others are present, if a person needs to have their food cut for them, discreetly take the plate back into the kitchen and cut it there. This will add an unspoken but important element of dignity for those being cared for.

Residential and Financial Concerns
The attitudes and behaviors of many seniors are oftentimes driven by an unspoken fear of abandonment.

When parents do not feel that their children have made wise decisions for themselves, they are naturally hesitant to turn over financial control to them.

It was not uncommon for senior women to have deferred to their husbands’ judgment when choices were being made about financial and property issues. If now widowed, they may feel more comfortable acting in accordance with someone else’s say-so for important decision-making.

It may be illuminating to discover what memories a senior has of his or her own parent’s convalescence. What would they, as caregivers, have done differently? Had they promised themselves they would never go to a “nursing home”?

When a senior is facing the prospect of moving to a continuing care or assisted living community, speak to them about what they think this will be like. Many will have a stark vision of facilities from many years ago when options were relatively limited.

About Moodiness
Seniors will experience good days and bad days due to effects of pain, adjustment to medications and or emotional issues.

Seniors who seem short-tempered may be responding to the frustrating lack of control of not being able to think as quickly, and remember as well, as they once had.

Psychology of Seniors
Understand and be prepared to recognize the issues that trigger depression and anxiety for seniors.

Be sensitive to anniversary depressions. Birthdays, anniversaries, and major holidays evoke memories of those who have passed, and independence lost.

For most, losing control of physical functioning is difficult. Experiencing the steady loss of friends and relatives leads to sadness and isolation. For those with dementia, witnessing the gradual loss of one’s own self can be the ultimate loneliness.

If a senior is grieving the loss of a loved one they think died yesterday, even if that person actually died years ago, their grief will be as deep and painful as though it just happened.  This is legitimate suffering and must be handled with empathy.

Oftentimes, a parent will have a set of expectations of how they deserve to be treated by their children based on the sacrifices they made on behalf of their own parents. When children do not meet these expectations, resentment, depression and various forms of acting out behavior are the result.

Some seniors harbor lifelong prejudices that were carefully concealed. It can be quite distressing for a caregiver to discover that their parent has “all of a sudden” developed a shocking taste for racial bias. The gradual loss of mental functioning allows one to become “dis-inhibited”; thoughts, formerly suppressed due to social constraints, are now out in the open. This applies for latent sexual desires as well, especially for men.

Denial
If the person you are caring for continually puts off medical diagnosis, they are using the defense of denial in the service of their fear. If they are never diagnosed, then they never have to face the reality of being sick.

For Senior Men
More often than not, senior men went along with the social arrangements made by their wives. If a man becomes a widower, he may feel out of place socializing with others on his own. Additionally, since women outnumber men of this age group, a man may feel he is betraying the memory of his wife when engaging in social situations involving mostly women.

Religion and Spirituality
It is important to understand what a person’s religious or spiritual beliefs are. Does he or she believe in an afterlife? Are they concerned over what is in store for them when their mortal life ends? Are they disillusioned  or angry with God?

Restore and Maintain Balance
It is essential for you, as a caregiver, to leave time for your own introspection and emotional balance. Engage in activities that serve to cleanse toxins and stress from the body and spirit.

Engage the help of others when necessary to de-stress and achieve perspective.

Rest and relaxation are critical in order to prevent “caregiver burnout.”

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management Aging Life Care Professional  www.rgcmgmt.com

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Long Distance Caregiving

Carol O’dell

If you’re a long-distance caregiver, then you know the drill. You call all the time. You coordinate care from 400 miles away. You spend long weekends or vacation time visiting your loved one and hoping before you open that door that they’re OK. Worry comes with long-distance caregiving, and so does guilt, but you try really hard to make it work — and you dread the day that won’t be enough.

You are not alone. According to a recent Caring.com poll, nearly one-third of all caregivers do not live with or, in many cases, even near their loved ones. Here’s a look at a few challenges long-distance caregivers face, and tips to help manage care from afar.

Feeling emotionally connected to your family members.

Sometimes phone calls or visits filled with doctor appointments and home chores don’t allow for heart-to-heart talks. As much as there is to cover, make the time to just sit for a few minutes and allow a natural conversation to emerge.

Set up a weekly phone-chat date for the times that you’re apart. Have it at a time when you both can look forward to it and nothing competes. After you discuss some of your “to-do” list items, begin to share something personal about your own life. Ask their advice on something — anything — from the color shoes you should wear to your cousin’s wedding to whether you should get a bigger car. Let them feel as if they’re a part of your life as well.

Getting shut out.

Many long-distance caregivers, particularly those helping someone with moderate to severe dementia, find that their visits actually aggravate their loved ones — who are confused and want to “go home” or don’t understand why you keep calling them “Dad.”

Remind yourself that you’re not just there to visit. You’re there to make sure Mom or Dad are being cared for properly. (Having a loved one with moderate to severe dementia increases the likelihood that he or she is living in a care facility.) Stay out of sight if you have to, but visit the staff, have lunch in the cafeteria, and walk the grounds. Talk to the people your loved one interacts with to find out how he or she is doing. It’s painful not to be able to connect, but remember that you’re still needed.

Knowing your loved one is safe and appropriately cared for.

Audrey Adelson, author of “Long-Distance Caregiving,” writes, “Often, long-distance caregivers obtain important information from their elder or secondhand from family members who have spoken with a member of their loved one’s treatment team. This makes it difficult to get a clear understanding of what is really going on.” How do you stay in the loop when you’re not in the area?

How to manage? By having lots of eyes. Whether you coordinate care for your loved one in his or her home or an assisted living facility, start to connect with those who interact with your loved one. Call after an appointment and ask how it went. Let them know you plan to be involved, and be sure to send a thank-you card or friendly e-mail.

Managing insurance and financial needs or making sure you can trust those who do.

Trust is a big issue for long-distance caregivers. When you don’t have people who genuinely care for your loved one and communicate with you about what’s going on, then you begin to worry, and worry, and worry.

Take the time to find professionals who can assist you and your loved one. It’s worth the time and effort. Hire an elder law attorney to make sure their financial assets are protected, or check into local resources designed for seniors and their family’s needs.

Make a plan for whatever comes next.

Long-distance caregivers dread getting “the call.” Whether it’s from a concerned neighbor or from the ER at 4 a.m., it’s difficult to know what to plan for when anything could happen. Try to laugh (or scream, or sob) when all of your planning and hard work takes a dive and you have to come up with a new plan. Change is inevitable, and when we fight that it that causes us pain.

Play “what if.” Come up with the three possible scenarios — a fall, a worsening of a condition or ailment, or a refusal to move even when that’s needed. How will you handle it? Can you go ahead and do some online searches? Can you connect with other caregivers and ask how they handled a big change and ask how it’s going now? It’s easier to face the “what ifs” when you know that somehow, some way, you will get through.

Being a long-distance caregiver comes with challenges you never thought you’d have to face. Sometimes you have to let go, just a little, of all that you can’t control. Caregiving isn’t easy, and there aren’t always solutions, so grab your rearview mirror the next time you’re in your car and look at yourself and say, “You’re doing the best you can.”

For a loved one living in Raleigh, NC, contact Raleigh Geriatric Care Management to assist with your family member. www.rgcmgmt.comRaleigh ,NC

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Stress and the Holidays: Coping Strategies to Keep you Sane

By Helen Hunter,

Every year, the media bombards us with advertisements showing the “happy family” gathering for the holidays. People from different generations are together, having a wonderful time, sharing traditions of old and creating new ones as well.

It is not that way, though, for a great number of individuals. For those who don’t have families of their own, or for those who live alone and have relatives living far away, holidays often bring heartbreak and depression. Those who have been used to family celebrations in the past and no longer have that to look forward to cannot accept the “change” in the tradition, especially if they keep hearing about others who are getting together with their own families.

There are two things to remember that can help get you through the holidays. The first thing to realize is that it is okay to cry. This can be a tough time for many. It is natural to feel depressed when your friends are having the ideal family gathering. Allow yourself to express your inner feelings.

The second thing to remember is to control the holidays, do not let them control you. This requires planning. If you know that you will be alone on the holiday, start planning ahead for what you will do. Here are some suggestions for things you can do to sidestep the holiday blues:

  1.  If you cannot be with family, try to spend time with friends or neighbors instead.
  2. Get away from the source of the depression. If your home reminds you of past holidays spent with a loved one, go on a cruise, or take a vacation to another part of the country, or go abroad.
  3. Get involved with an activity. Volunteer at a local senior center, church or community center that serves meals on the holiday, or give your services to a hospital. If you know that someone will be alone and cannot get out for the holiday, visit. If the person lives far away and you cannot physically visit, make a phone call. In helping those who are less fortunate than yourself, you can forget some of your own troubles.
  4. Invite others who are also alone to your home to share the holiday. You can prepare a meal for them, or you can go out to a restaurant. Company always helps ease depression.

Be gentle to yourself, especially if you have recently lost a loved one. If you do not feel like celebrating, don’t! If you do wish to celebrate, keep it simple. Remember the TRUE reason that we celebrate the holidays!

The important point to remember here is that if the old traditions cause heartbreak and depression, change the tradition – start a new one!

Also, be sure to review your expectations and be realistic. Not everyone is jolly, generous and loving all through the holiday season. As Wayne A. Van Kampen from the Bethesda PsycHealth Reporter wrote, “ Somehow (during the holidays) persons feel pushed into hiding, covering over, or denying the reality of sadness, fear and tension. Perhaps what is needed most is simply a more honest embracing of ourselves, others, and the realities of life.” Not everyone will have a happy family gathering just because it is the holiday season. Old resentments are likely to resurface, no matter how hard we try, when people are thrown together for an extended period.

In addition, there are a number of strategies that can be used in planning the holiday celebration.

These strategies include the following:

  • Delegate responsibilities and activities so that one person is not taking on more than can be accomplished without help.
  • Do not assume responsibility for the entire household’s holiday happiness.
  • Work minute by minute on your attitude. Postpone becoming angry and show understanding and calmness. This technique should be used not only during the holiday period, but every day!
  • Any task that you have chosen to do, whether it be the cooking, cleaning, gift wrapping, card addressing, organizing, decorating or shopping, is to be viewed as a choice that you made. Try to have fun in tackling these tasks, which will make the holiday easier and keep your spirits positive.
  • Start traditions that make the most sense to you in your life now. It doesn’t always have to be done the same way every year.
  • Do things together as a family that you all truly enjoy.

Make the holiday season a time for you and your loved ones to have fun and to share special memories. When the entire season is over, sit down, relax and count your blessings. Remind yourself as to how lucky you are. When you make an effort to have a joyous, stress-free holiday, you can avoid the stress. The key is to plan ahead, and to ask for and accept help from others.

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management www.rgcmgmt.com

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Celebrate Social Work Month in North Carolina!

The nation’s largest group of social workers, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), begins its month-long celebration of the profession in March.

Social workers in hospitals, clinics, schools, universities, non-profit and government social service agencies, community centers, corporations, think tanks, elected offices, and numerous private practices will work to remind the public why they joined the profession in a campaign called “All People Matter.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work continues to be a fast-growing occupation in the United States.  More than 600,000 social work college graduates hold social work positions, and an additional 130,000 people are employed as community and social service managers.

As the country addresses issues of growing income inequality, educational achievement gaps, health care disparities, mental health access, and improved veterans support, social workers in communities across the nation are raising awareness about critical family needs and social injustice.

“I’m proud to belong to a profession that recognizes that all people matter,” says NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “The field of social work requires its members to put the ideals of citizenship into action every day.”

To recognize all the ways social workers make a difference, and how they help turn public attention to complex social issues that affect millions of lives, the 2014 Social Work Month campaign will highlight some of the profession’s most accomplished authors, educators, researchers and practice leaders through its 1,000 Experts initiative.

In Raleigh, North Carolina:  www.rgcmgmt.com   Raleigh Geriatric Care Management

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How to Handle Difficult Behaviors Won’t use walker or cane

Almost always, the device makes the person feel old or disabled and is therefore ignored.

What to do:

  • Enlist peer pressure. It works at any age! The more your loved one sees others (especially those perceived as peers or younger) using assistive devices, the more normal they appear. Arrange chance “encounters” with a dapper, active, respected friend of roughly the same age who use a cane. Even watching movies set in locations when canes are commonplace (lots of foreign movies set in Europe, for example) can have a positive subliminal effect.
  • Talk up the benefits. Canes and walkers are seen as symbols of disability. Remind your loved one that they actually promote movement, which will increase the odds of better mobility over time. They also reduce the odds of a fall — which can cause serious injury and further limit mobility.
  • Look for noninstitutional models. Many men prefer a sturdy, stylish wooden cane to an aluminum model, for example. Walkers also come in a variety of types; search online forwalker or look at medical equipment companies.
  • Try compromising. Maybe your loved one will use a walker in certain circumstances (shopping) but prefers to lean on a companion’s arm in others (church).
  • Supply the device wordlessly. Rather than nagging (“Get your cane!”), just provide it.
  • Consider having a third party, such as a physical therapist or doctor, lay out the costs of ignoring a cane or walker.
  • See a physical therapist’s tips for encouraging someone who refuses to use their cane or walker

caring.com

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management:  www.rgcmgmt.com

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Activities for People With Alzheimer’s Disease

It is universally recognized that elderly people with dementia lose their short term memory first and their long term memory last. For example, they often remember people and events from their earlier years, but have difficulty remembering what they ate for breakfast the day before. A short summary of some activities include the following:

  1. Reminisce! Everything you do together lends itself to reminiscing. If the person can still speak fairly well, say, “Tell me about…” If his vocabulary is more limited, you may have to facilitate the story. “Do you remember when…” As you bake cookies together you can talk about residents’ favorite cookies, meals, etc.
  2. Read aloud and use visual aids such as memory poems, family pictures, or stories about “the days gone by” stimulate reminiscences. Ideas include Chicken Soup for the Soul series and Yesterdays by NaDezan, and other short stories
  3. Make music. Sing, hum, whistle, dance. Singing brings oxygen to the brain to help you think more clearly. Dancing exercises other parts of the body. Both increase your own sense of well-being as well as the well-being of the residents! Have music activities and entertainers visit. Choose the residents’ favorite cassettes.

4.  Sensory stimulation activities could include the following:

  • Making lap quilts.
  • Painting.
  • Talking books.
  • Scrap books.
  • Walking!
  • Flower arranging.
  • Tutoring, or visiting with children.
  • Baking.
  • Happy hour with non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Ice cream party.
  • Brushing & fixing a resident’s hair.
  • Manicures.
  • Ladies luncheons.
  • Building with wood (include sanding).

Although these activities are written for residents of a retirement community or a nursing home, they certainly could be utilized for private use as well. Keeping the mind and body active are important for everyone, but especially your loved one with dementia. Do something that is enjoyable for both of you, and it makes it that much easier. Raleigh Geriatric Care Management assists adult children of aging parents. caregiver.com

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Is it time for Assisted Living?

by Paula Spencer Scott

The decision to help an aging adult move out of a current home is a complex one — both emotionally and practically. Above all, you want the person to be safe and well. How can you all feel more confident about whether circumstances suggest that your loved one should no longer be living alone?

1. Big-picture signs it might be time for assisted living

Keep the big red flags in mind. Certain situations make it more obvious that it’s wise to start thinking about alternate living arrangements.

Look for:

  • Recent accidents or close calls. Did your loved one take a fall, have a medical scare, or get in a fender bender (or worse)? Who responded and how long did it take? Accidents do happen, but as people get older, the odds rise of them happening again.
  • A slow recovery. How did the person you’re caring for weather the most recent illness (for example, a flu or bad cold)? Was he or she able and willing to seek medical care when needed, or did last winter’s cold develop into untreated bronchitis?
  • A chronic health condition that’s worsening. Progressive problems such as COPD, dementia, and congestive heart failure can decline gradually or precipitously, but either way, their presence means your loved one will increasingly need help.
  • Increasing difficulty managing the activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). ADLs and IADLs are the skills needed to live independently — dressing, shopping, cooking, doing laundry, managing medications, and so on. Doctors, social workers, and other geriatric experts evaluate them as part of a functional assessment, which is one way to get an expert’s view of the situation. Difficulties with ADLs and IADLs can sometimes be remedied by bringing in more in-home help.

2. Up-close signs it might be time for assisted living

Give your loved one a big hug. Clues aren’t always visible from a distance; especially when you don’t see the person every day, you might learn more through touch.

Look for:

  • Noticeable weight loss. Does the person feel thinner? Are clothes loose, or has he added notches to his belt? Many conditions, from depression to cancer, can cause weight loss. A person who is having trouble getting out to shop or remembering how to cook (or to eat) can lose weight; check the fridge and watch meal-prep skills.
  • Seeming more frail. Do you feel anything “different” about the person’s strength and stature when you hug? Can your loved one rise easily from a chair? Does she or he seem unsteady or unable to balance? Compare these observations to the last time you were together.
  • Noticeable weight gain. Common causes include an injury slowing the person down,diabetes, and dementia (when someone doesn’t remember eating, he or she may indulge in meals and snacks all day long). Someone with money troubles may choose fewer fresh foods and more packaged goods or dried pasta and bread.
  • Strange body odor. Unfortunately, a close hug can also reveal changes in personal hygiene habits. Causes range from memory trouble to depression to other physical ailments.
  • Changes in appearance. Does the person’s hair and makeup look all right? Are clothes clean? Someone known for crisply ironed shirts who’s now in a stained sweatshirt may lack the dexterity for buttons or may have lost the strength for managing an ironing board and iron. A formerly clean-shaven man with an unkempt beard may be forgetting to shave (or forgetting how to shave).

3. Social signs it might be time for assisted living

Think realistically about the person’s social connections. Social circles tend to shrink with age, which can have health and safety implications.

Look for:

  • Signs of active friendships. Does your loved one still get together for lunches or outings with friends or visits with neighbors, or participate in religious activities or other group events? Does he or she talk about others or keep a calendar of appointments? Lack of companionship is associated with depression and heart problems in older adults. If friends have died or moved away, moving to a place where other people are around could be lifesaving.
  • Signs that your loved one has cut back on activities and interests. Is a hobby area abandoned? Has a club membership been given up? A library card gone unused? There are many reasons people cut back, but dropping out of everything and showing interest in almost nothing is a red flag for depression.
  • Days spent without leaving the house. This sometimes happens because the person can no longer drive or is afraid to take public transportation alone and lacks a companion to come along. While many older adults fear being “locked away” in a retirement home, many such facilities offer regular outings that may keep them more mobile and active, not less.
  • Someone who checks in on a regular basis. If not you or another family member, who does this? Is your loved one willing to consider a home-safety alarm system, a personal alarm system, or a daily calling service?
  • A plan for a worst-case scenario. If there’s a fire, earthquake, flood, or other disaster, is someone on standby to assist? Does your loved one understand the plan?

4. Money signs it might be time for assisted living

Riffle through the mail. Your loved one’s mail can offer an often-overlooked clue to how he or she is managing money, a common early warning sign of cognitive trouble.

Look for:

  • Snowdrifts of mail in various places. Finding lots of mail scattered around raises concern about how bills, insurance, and other matters are being managed. (Piles of mail are also a potential tripping hazard.)
  • Unopened personal mail. Everybody skips junk mail, but few of us can ignore a good old-fashioned, hand-addressed letter.
  • Unopened bills. This can indicate that your loved one is having difficulty managing finances — one of the most common first signs of dementia.
  • Letters from banks, creditors, or insurers. Routine business letters aren’t worrisome. But it’s alarming if they’re referring to overdue payments, overdrawn balances, recent accidents, or other concerning events.
  • Thank-you messages from charities. Older adults are often vulnerable to scammers. Even those who have always been fiscally prudent are vulnerable if they’re having trouble with thinking skills (a common sign of Alzheimer’s disease). Some charities hit up givers over and over, and your loved one may not remember having donating the first time.
  • Lots of crisp, unread magazines. The person may unknowingly have repeat-renewal subscriptions he or she doesn’t need.

5. Driving signs it might be time for assisted living

Take a drive — with your loved one behind the wheel, if he or she is still driving. Living independently in our culture often depends on the ability to drive (or the arrangement of alternate transportation options).

Look for:

  • Nicks or dents on the car. Notice the car body as you get in and out. Damage marks can be signs of careless driving.
  • Whether the person promptly fastens his or her seatbelt. Even people with mild dementia usually follow the rote basics of driving. It’s worrisome if he or she is forgetting this step.
  • • Tension, preoccupation, or being easily distracted. The person may turn off the radio, for example, or be unwilling to engage in conversation while driving. He or she may avoid certain routes, highway driving, or driving at night and in rain — a safe kind of self-policing but also signals of changing ability.
  • Signs of dangerous driving. People whose driving ability is impaired are more likely to tailgate, drift from their lane, go below the speed limit, react slowly to lights or other cars, and mix up gas and brake pedals. See 8 ways to assess someone’s driving.
  • Warning lights. Check out the dashboard as you ride along. Does the car have sufficient oil, gas, antifreeze, windshield-wiper fluid?

6. Kitchen signs it might be signs for assisted living

Go through the kitchen, from fridge to cupboards to oven. Because people spend so much time in this room, you can learn a lot.

Look for:

  • Stale or expired foods. We all buy more than we need. Look for signs that food is not only old but that this is unnoticed — mold, sour milk that’s still used, or expiration dates well past due, for example.
  • Multiples of the same item. Ten bottles of ketchup? More cereal than can be eaten in a year? Multiples often reveal that the shopper can’t remember from one store trip to the next what’s in stock at home.
  • A freezer full of TV dinners. Your loved one may buy them for convenience sake, but frozen dinners tend not to make healthy diet. If there’s not much fresh food in the house (because it’s too hard to for the person to procure or cook), your loved one might be ready to have help with meal prep or delivery services.
  • Broken appliances. Check them all: microwave, coffeemaker, toaster, washer, and dryer — any device you know your loved one uses (or used to use) routinely.
  • Signs of fire. Are stove knobs charred? Pot bottoms singed badly (or thrown out)? Do any potholders have burned edges? Also look for a discharged fire extinguisher, smoke detectors that have been disassembled, or boxes of baking soda near the stove. Accidents happen; ask for the story behind what you see. Accidental fires are a common home danger for older adults.
  • Increased use of takeout or simpler cooking. A change in physical or mental abilities might explain a downshift to simpler recipes or food choices.

7. Around-the-house signs it might be time for assisted living

Look around the living areas. Sometimes the most obvious sign is hard to see because we become so used to it.

Look for:

  • Lots of clutter. An inability to throw anything away may be a sign of a neurological or physical issue. Obviously it’s more worrisome in a neatnik than in a chronic slob. Papers or pet toys all over the floor represent a tripping hazard.
  • Signs of lax housekeeping. Spills that haven’t been cleaned up are a common sign of dementia — the person lacks the follow-through to tidy. Keep an eye out for cobwebs, bathroom mold, thick dust, or other signs of slackness. Physical limitations can mean your loved one needs housekeeping help or a living situation where this is taken care of for him or her.
  • Bathroom grime and clutter. A common scenario: Your loved one makes an effort to tidy up living areas but overlooks the bathroom. Or the guest bath is clean, but not the one the person uses all the time (the one off a bedroom, for example). Here you may see a truer picture of how your loved one is keeping up.

8. Pet-care and plant-care signs it might be time for assisted living

Be sure to check out how the other living things are faring. An ability to take care of pets and plants goes along with self-care.

Look for:

  • Plants that are dying, dead, or just gone. Most of us have seen plants go brown sometimes. Keep an eye out for chronic neglect, especially in a former plant-lover’s home.
  • Animals that don’t seem well tended. Common problems: dogs with long nails, cat litter boxes that haven’t been changed lately, or dead fish in the fish tank. Poor grooming, overfeeding, and underfeeding are other red flags.

9. Home-maintenance signs it might be time for assisted living

Walk around the yard. Yard maintenance — or lack of it — can yield clues that your loved one isn’t faring as well at home alone anymore.

Look for:

  • Signs of neglect. Look for discolored siding or ceilings that might indicate a leak, gutters choked with leaves, broken windows or fences, dirty windows.
  • Newspapers in the bushes. Are papers being delivered but ignored? Sometimes people pick up those they can see on a driveway but not those that go off into the yard.
  • Mail piled up in the mailbox. Go out and check — it’s an indication that your loved one doesn’t even retrieve it regularly.

10. Get help looking for signs it might be time for assisted living

Get the input of others who know your loved one in order to collect a fuller picture of reality. Gently probing about what others think isn’t nosy; you’re being loving, concerned, and proactive.

Look for:

  • Input from those in your loved one’s circle. Talk to old friends and close relatives to get their sense of how the person is faring. Listen for stories that hint that the person doesn’t get out much (“She doesn’t come over anymore.” “She quit book club.”). Pay attention to comments that indicate ongoing concerns (“Has he had that heart test yet?” “We were worried the day the ambulance came.”).
  • Medical insight. With appropriate permission, your loved one’s primary doctor may share your concerns about his or her patient’s safety at home — or may be able to alleviate those concerns or suggest where to get a home assessment.
  • A second opinion. A social worker or professional geriatric care manager visits older adults’ homes and does informal evaluations. While your loved one may initially resist the notion of a “total stranger” checking on them, try pitching it as a professional (and neutral) second opinion, or ask the doctor to “prescribe” it. Some people wind up sharing doubts or vulnerabilities with a sympathetic, experienced stranger that they’re loathe to admit to their own children or family.

11. Caregivers’ signs it might be time for assisted living

Finally, realize that some of the information you collect is intangible — it has to do with feelings and emotions, and the stress levels of everyone involved.

Look for:

  • How you’re doing. While this decision to remain in one’s home is not primarily about you — the son, daughter, grandchild, caregiver — your own exhaustion can be a good gauge of a decline in older adults’ ability to care for themselves. Keeping someone at home can require lots of hands-on support or care coordination, and this is time-consuming. If your loved one’s need for care is just plain wearing you out, or if a spouse or children are feeling the collective strain of your caregiving activities, these are major signs that it’s time to start looking at other options.
  • Your loved one’s emotional state. Safety is crucial, of course, but so is emotional well-being. If someone living alone is riddled with anxieties or increasingly lonely, then that may tip the scales toward a move not solely based on health and safety reasons.

If your loved one has a full life, a close neighborhood and community connections, and seems to be thriving, it’s worth exploring as many in-home care options as possible before raising stress levels by pressing a move from a beloved home.

If, on the other hand, your loved one is showing signs that living alone is a strain, it may be time for a talk. Broach the subject of where to live in a neutral way and you may find that your loved one harbors the same fears for current and future safety and security that you do. Find out what your loved one fears most about moving and about staying before launching into your own worries and what you think ought to be done.

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