When your parents or other family members start to get older, it might be difficult to recognize or acknowledge some of the signs that things might not be going as well as you thought or would've hoped. You might have a lot of emotions regarding the people who used to take care of you now needing more help themselves, and if you live far away and only see them periodically, it can be surprising how rapidly things seem to have changed since your last visit. There are little things that can indicate health concerns in older people that, if they start doing, it might be cause for concern.
Some of the health issues that are associated with aging are drastic and obvious, but many of the signs and symptoms that might be preliminary indicators that all is not well can initially be a bit more subtle. And some of these little things themselves don't seem to be that big of a deal, but each can be a sign of something far more serious than it seems, especially if they linger. In some cases, knowing what to look out for can help you spot subtle things early on and potentially prevent them from becoming full-blown health crises in the future.
1. Shakiness Or Tremors
Occasional shakiness is probably nothing to worry about — it happens to practically everyone from time to time. But if the older adult in your life starts experiencing tremors when they're just sitting still or those tremors become worse over time, that could potentially indicate a neurological condition like Parkinson's Disease, as the Cleveland Clinic reported. Dr. Michal Gostkowski, D.O., a neurologist, told the Cleveland Clinic in the previously-mentioned article that even if you don't think the tremor is a sign of a condition, it's probably still good to talk about it with a healthcare provider who may be able to determine the cause or triggers of the tremors, which hopefully will help minimize their impact.
2. Loss Of Appetite
There are many reasons why you might see the older person in your life eat less sometimes, but if you notice that they seem to be uninterested in eating in general, it could be cause for concern. ABC News reported that loss of appetite can sometimes be due to denture issues in adults with dentures. It could also be a sign of depression, dementia, and other serious issues.
3. Balance Or Coordination Issues
Some adults experience increased difficulty with balance or coordination as they get older, but if it's something that seems to come on suddenly, that could be especially worrisome. Healthline reported that sudden speech, balance, or coordination problems could be indicative of a stroke. Strokes are, of course, very serious, so if you see your loved one exhibit symptoms, it's best to make sure they're addressed right away.
Fatigue is tricky, because it can be a symptom of a lot of different things, but one that you might not consider, but that affects many older people, is dehydration. The British Nutrition Foundation noted that even relatively minor dehydration can affect seniors' alertness, concentration, energy levels, and memory. Both nutrition and hydration are important things to monitor when it comes to older adults because all too many aren't eating well or getting enough fluids.
Aging can be lonely and loneliness can be a sign of depression. Older adults can be at risk for depression, as Healthline reported in the aforementioned article, because it's a period of life during which there can be a lot of loss and change. While some older adults might think that the way they're feeling is just part of life, if you recognize that they're socially isolated, you might want to look for other signs of depression as well, encourage them to talk to a professional or seek treatment, and encourage them to become more active in their social life.
6. Shortness Of Breath
Again, temporary shortness of breath is something that most people experience at some point, but if they're dealing with prolonged shortness of breath, it could be a red flag that something more serious is actually happening. Dr. Jason Fritz, M.D., a pulmonologist, told Penn Medicine that there are a myriad of conditions that could be contributing to their breathing problems, but that he is seeing more and more older adults coming in with this complaint. If they're also experiencing chest pain, dizziness, nighttime breathing problems, or other issues, it's definitely time to see a doctor.
7. They Seem Fearful Or Uncertain
If the older adult in your life is experiencing feelings of fear or uncertainty, that could indicate that they're dealing with anxiety. The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry noted that about 10 to 20 percent of older adults might have anxiety, which, in many cases, may be undiagnosed. While they might not realize that they may have anxiety, encouraging them to seek treatment could help improve their quality of life.
8. They Seem To Be Forgetting A Lot
Nearly everyone forgets things sometimes, right? The same is true for older adults. Not everything that they forget is a sign that there could be something more serious going on, but bigger issues like getting confused in a familiar setting could be. As the American Psychological Association noted, if you're concerned about dementia, speaking to a qualified medical professional can be a good first step. In many cases, they'll be able to tell you whether there's cause for concern or not and if there is, work with you to help make that person's quality of life the best that it can be.
9. Personality Changes
Personality changes can be scary no matter when in life they seem to happen. In a post that he wrote for the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Paul Y. Takahashi, M.D., wrote that low blood sodium is especially common in older adults who take certain medications or have certain health conditions, and can sometimes change personality traits. If severe, it could be life-threatening. A doctor will be able to advise changes to their diet, hydration levels, medications, or other treatments that should help stabilize their blood sodium levels.
10. Lax Grooming Habits
If the older adult in your life seems to suddenly stop taking care of themselves, that might be a sign that something is wrong. Donna Benton, director of the Caregiver Resource Center of Los Angeles County, told the Los Angeles Times that poor grooming habits could be signs of either mental or physical issues. It might be that they're not taking care of themselves because they're too frail to do so or because they're depressed, anxious, or showing signs of dementia.
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.