Watching your parents begin to age is a tough spot for most anyone. Of course you just want them to stay young and healthy as long as possible. But there comes a time when you need to tell the normal signs of aging apart from potential problems. But as it turns out, the subtle behavioral changes in your aging parents that could be a health red flag are not that difficult to spot. In fact, sometimes even minor changes can say so much about your parents' condition.
It's a tough situation to face, but catching these symptoms early may be helpful for both you and your parent. "It’s important that people don’t ignore these signs, and see their doctor," says Ruth Drew of the Alzheimer’s Association. "While Alzheimer’s can be a devastating diagnosis, there are many benefits to early detection, or, these may be symptoms of a treatable condition." Some of these signs could signify any number of conditions, so a doctor's visit is a must.
Again, it can be a scary situation, but you're definitely not alone. Romper reached out to many experts in senior care for advice. Honestly, I'm impressed and humbled by the number of people in this important field who took the time to respond to this piece. Here's their advice for potential warning signs.
1. Changes In Gait
Watch your parent walk. "Studies show that changes in gait when walking such as taking shorter steps can occur," as Ruth Drew, MS, LPC, Director of Information and Support Services for the Alzheimer’s Association, tells Romper. Changes in the brain related to Alzheimer's disease can affect a person's balance and coordination, as Drew further explains.
2. Struggles With Motor Skills
Take note if your parent begins to struggle with small activities that were once automatic. For instance, a person may have difficulty buttoning a shirt or maintaining neat handwriting, as Drew says. It's related to the loss of connections in the brain.
3. Confusion With Time Or Place
It isn't just about memory loss. People experiencing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease may experience confusion with the time or their location, as Drew explains. Does your typically punctual parent have trouble staying on time now?
4. Repeats Questions
Watch out for signs of confusion. "Forgetfulness is part of aging, but if a parent keeps asking the same questions, is grasping for words, or seems confused over how to perform familiar tasks, it needs to be checked out," says Teri Dreher, RN, owner and founder of NShore Patient Advocates. Don't hesitate to visit a doctor for advice.
5. Maintains Poor Personal Hygiene
Is your parent neglecting trips to the barber shop lately? "Besides inadequate bathing, this might evidence itself as wearing the same clothes multiple days or not bothering to change out of pajamas," says Dreher. Pay attention to their personal appearance and cleanliness.
6. Damages Belongings
Look out for neglected or damaged personal belongings. "Broken eyeglasses, scorched pans, dented bumpers . . . these may signify that your parent is having trouble navigating through the day," says Dreher. It may be time for a serious conversation or doctor's visit.
7. Decreases Socialization
Beware signs of self-isolation. When older adults show a reluctance to meet up with friends, then this may signify a potential health problem, as Steve Rovner, Brightview Devon’s Executive Director, explains. Watch out too for adults who show a reluctance to leave the house at all.
8. Struggles With Cooking
If your parent, who was once a star chef, starts struggling with simple food preparation, then this is a concern. Struggling to cook for one's self is a potential warning sign, as Agnes Schare, RN, BSN, the Vice President of Bridgeway Senior, explains. Any general decline in self care is worth noting.
9. Seems "Off"
Sometimes you just know something is not quite right with your parent. "Sometimes it may be as simple as noticing something that seems 'off' about your aging parents," says Jessica Henry, Occupational Therapist and Co-Founder of Healthcare Straight Up. "Even if you may not be able to place exactly what it is at the time, recognizing that it may be something is a great place to start." Even if your parent just seems a little less interactive or communicative, then this may point to a problem. Remember, you know your parents better than anyone, so it's usually the adult children who spot these first potential trouble signs. It's scary, sure, but help is definitely available for you and your family.