Age old concerns

Here are some signs to watch out for in old age, and seek immediate attention if they surface

Two old man having good conversation

Often old age comes with problems, and mostly health related. Many a times, we miss out on things that are obvious. Especially after those youthful days when one had the attitude of ‘come what may’. Here are some old age signs you should not miss out on, and seek immediate medical attention for.

Low mood

Due to the many health problems at their age and the on and off aches and pains they experience, we expect a grumpy mood in most elders to be normal. However, that isn’t how it should be. If you notice your otherwise cheerful parent, elderly relative or neighbour appearing sullen, it’s worth probing further and also seeking medical advice if things remain unchanged for long. Elders could feel low or depressed due to loneliness, feeling of worthlessness or troubled relationships at home. Often these aspects are overlooked by them and their family as well.

Memory loss

We all forget things occasionally but this is one of the most common and challenging problems of the geriatric population world over. If the person forgets names of people who s/he regularly interacts with or memory of very recent events then it could be concerning. Forgetting things like where did they place something or why did they enter the room is normal. But if they lose the trail of a sentence during their speech or forget words it could be a sign of dementia.

Lack of care

A sudden drop in the way your ageing parents dress or take care of the home should call for your attention. If you notice a lack of interest in bathing, brushing, dressing neatly then the reason should be probed. Also, if your parents have been living by themselves, keep checking on the condition of the house, especially the bathroom and the kitchen. The reason for this decline could be that they have lost confidence to manage on their own and it’s time they moved in with you or arrange for an outside support to help them with their daily chores.

Loss of sensation

If your elderly parent is unable to taste excess salt in the food, or has hurt himself and isn’t feeling any pain it calls for serious attention. Some amount of sensory loss is normal and expected as you age but if this becomes a hindrance then it should be fixed. For instance, loss of hearing has to be fixed with a hearing aid even if it is only a partial loss. Loss of sensation of touch should be diagnosed by an expert and treated. If not it could lead to accidents as the person may use too hot water in the bath or touch a hot utensil in the kitchen causing a burn and not even be aware of it.

Loss of appetite

Again just like children are fussy about the foods they eat, elderly become picky about foods and their appetite changes and reduces from what it used to be. If this is due to dental problems such as caries or absence of teeth, it could be fixed and normal appetite can be restored. However if the loss of appetite is due to indigestion, inability to procure or cook foods of their liking or a general loss of interest due to loneliness or depression, these concerns need to be addressed separately. They may also have a lack of taste which may make all foods taste bland.

Mobility

One of the biggest challenges in the elderly is to prevent a fall. Like children, the elderly are very prone to falls and with weak bones they are at higher risk of fractures and head injuries. If balance is not good, physiotherapy exercises can help to restore balance. Home environment plays an important role in fall prevention.

Loss of control in urine and stool

Loss of control over urine is a common problem with the elderly. In men it can be due to prostate, and in women it can be due to stress incontinence. It can happen as a result of an illness like pneumonia as well. A quick discussion, during the doctor’s visit, on this is very important to prevent emergencies like acute retention of urine. Due to embarrassment your parents may not disclose this complaint to you, so look for signs such as soiled clothes or bed linen.

Making the home safe for the elderly

  • Encourage them to wear shoes that fit properly and wear non-slip footwear while at home
  • Wipe spills immediately, do not leave it for later
  • If possible, opt for non-polished floors
  • Leave on the lights in the bathroom and passages
  • Use door locks that can be opened from both sides in bathrooms and bedrooms
  • Keep emergency phone numbers written in big bold fonts, and stick it near the phone
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy at home
  • Clean bathrooms regularly to avoid slipping
  • Install and use hand rails in bathrooms
  • Remove rugs to avoid tripping over
  • Use bright lights
  • Keep an emergency lamp near the bed.

In the kitchen

  • Keep kitchen floors uncluttered
  • Stick “On” and “Off” position stickers on electrical appliances written in bright colours
  • Keep sharp objects in one rack
  • Use labels for items that are kept in opaque boxes
  • Keep cleaning materials tightly closed and away from food materials
  • Use cotton clothing and aprons while cooking
  • Check expiry dates of packaged food.

There’s a lot you can do for the elders of your family and community to make them feel comfortable, wanted and secure. But the best thing you can give them is some of your time, spent meaningfully with them.

This was first published in the November 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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