Elder Americans are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. According to the Administration of Aging (Dec. 2007), by 2030 there will be about 71.5 million older Americans, more than twice the number in 2000.
As a result, children of aging parents will increasingly find themselves managing a parent’s care. Lisa Little, director of Des Peres Hospital's Senior Care Clinic listed some health signals to watch for if you have an aging parent.
Lack of personal hygiene may signal possible health problems in an aging parent. Some indicators include: Dirty clothing, un-bathed, un-brushed teeth and lack of other basic grooming.
Also, any big changes in the way parents do things around the house could provide clues that their health is declining. These can include: Burnt-out light bulbs, lack of heating or air conditioning, dirty bathrooms or an overgrown, unkempt yard. These signs could indicate dementia, depression or other physical ailments.
"Although moderate memory problems are a fairly common part of aging, there is a difference between normal changes in memory and the type of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia," said Little.
To evaluate a parent’s loss of memory, consider if the memory changes are common misplacements or more worrisome memory changes like forgetting common words when speaking, getting lost in familiar neighborhoods, being unable to follow directions, taking an incorrect dosage of medication, missing appointments, making repeated and random phone calls at odd hours, and leaving windows and doors open and unlocked. If you notice any of these signs, schedule an appointment with your parent’s doctor or with a geriatrician, a physician who specializes in older adult medicine.
Losing weight without trying can be another sign of poor health. Weight loss can be attributed to several factors, but dramatic weight loss can indicate a more serious illness, such as malnutrition, dementia, depression or cancer. Be sure to call the doctor if your parent has experienced dramatic weight loss recently.
Often, aging parents have difficulty walking. However, if a parent is reluctant or unable to walk usual distances, this can be a sign of a more serious health issue. Providing the parent with a cane or walker can reduce the chances of falls or injuries. You many need to have your parent evaluated for being at risk for falls, which may lead to major health issues such as broken bones. Ask the doctor for referral to a physical therapist for evaluation and see if a home visit is offered to ensure the environment is safe for your parent.
"Emotional signs of aging can be just as important as physical symptoms," said Little. "Aging parents may feel alone, hopeless and isolated as they feel their independence slipping away. Signs of possible depression can include: irritability, a disinterest in previously enjoyable activities, dressing and socializing; as well as crying, lack of energy, sleepless nights and talk of despair."
The following geriatric specialists in Des Peres Hospital’s Senior Care Clinic provide a complete geriatric assessment to determine a patient’s health care needs and help manage physical and mental health: Joseph H. Flaherty, MD; Milta O. Little, DO; Bruce M. Lowrie, MD; Gerald M. Mahon, MD; John E. Morley, MD; Miriam B. Rodin, MD, PhD; David R. Thomas, MD; Chantri Trinh, MD.
Caring for an aging parent can be difficult, but there are a number of resources that can help, including: in-home healthcare, senior living communities, home modification, downsizing assistance, adult day care, meal delivery, and in-home emergency response.
Here are a few resources you may find helpful:
Mideast Area Agency on Aging -- http://www.mid-eastaaa.org/
Senior Impact's Older Adult Resource Guide -- http://www.seniorimpact.net/index.php?page=Books&screen=StLouis
St. Louis Times Resource Guide -- http://www.stlouistimes.com/default.asp