by Lila Lazarus
There are certain signs you want to ignore but you can’t. I was visiting my Mom and thought I smelled something burning. Rushing to the kitchen, I noticed a scorched pot on the stove. “Oh that?” Mom said calmly. “I forgot about the oatmeal.”
It wasn’t just the oatmeal. She was becoming more and more forgetful, confused…foggy. I didn’t care about the oatmeal or the pot. I was hurting for my Mom. This beautiful woman who has always been so vibrant, energetic, creative and upbeat was changing so rapidly. Or maybe I just had been ignoring the scorched pots and pans, the messy – actually dirty – countertops, the overgrown garden, the piles that seemed to be growing in every corner of the house, a mountain of bills, papers and unopened mail on her desk. The home she had lived in for so many years was in rapid decline. It’s one of nearly a dozen things people should take note of when they’re visiting parents and grandparents—especially those living alone.
So this holiday season, when spending time with aging loved ones, here’s a list of things to notice beyond burnt oatmeal:
Becoming a Hermit
Are they spending too much time alone? My Mom had always been such a social butterfly. She was always on the move. Suddenly, she was home alone all the time. She was even talking to herself. My Mom just wasn’t connecting with people like she used to. She didn’t really have hobbies and was no longer attending meetings and functions as often at the organizations she used to support. For years, she had walked several miles every morning but now she was rarely going out. It was the first real sign that something wasn’t right.
Change in Weight
Are they gaining or losing weight? My Mom had been the same weight forever. Suddenly she was gaining weight. Likely from staying indoors and nibbling. But I knew that a drastic change in weight is a trouble sign. Often, spending so much time alone, aging parents and grandparents don’t feel like cooking and cleaning just for themselves and end up losing weight. That isn’t my Mom’s problem, but lack of exercise is. Make sure you notice any weight changes—it could be a sign of a serious health issue.
Should they really be on the road? This was the toughest thing this year – finally realizing that Mom shouldn’t be driving. She just wasn’t thinking clearly enough or responding fast enough to be behind the wheel. While driving one of her granddaughters, she struggled to handle a roundabout and ended up on the wrong side of the road. We spoke with her doctor who finally made it clear to her that she could no longer drive. (Now if they could only make Uber easier for seniors to use!)
Have sleeping patterns changed? My entire life, my Mom was up at the crack of dawn. Before the birds were singing, my Mom was making breakfast and heading out on her walk. Now, I was waking her up when I called at close to ten in the morning. That kind of change in sleeping habits is usually a warning sign that something else is going on. If you notice any kind of unusual behavior or changes in daily patterns or confusion let the doctor know. It could be something as simple as a urinary tract infection, minor depression or something more serious like early signs of dementia.
What Day Is It?
How sharp are they? I could tell that one day was suddenly blending into the next for my Mom and she wasn’t really sure what day it was. She was forgetting appointments and her bills were stacking up. I wasn’t so concerned when she couldn’t remember where she put her keys. (She has always been forgetful.) My real concerns started when she couldn’t remember words or put sentences together the way she used to. I don’t like to think about dementia or Alzheimer’s, but there’s a certain amount of brain fog that I just couldn’t ignore anymore.
Notice their mood and notice their smile or lack of it. It was my Mom’s mood change that worried me the most. She just didn’t have that pep in her step that was always her trademark. She was depressed. It’s probably why she was no longer going out for her walk. (Or maybe not going for her walk was causing the depression?) Depression was likely also the culprit with her change in sleeping patterns. It could also be why she was losing track of days. And it may explain the change in her speech and loss of words.
Making an appointment with her doctor and going with her to that appointment made all the difference. The doctor helped with all the major issues and convinced her I wasn’t meddling but rather really trying to help. As it turns out, the doctor had been noticing these signs and was relieved that I accompanied her to the appointment.
Don’t misunderstand me. Noticing the signs of change, addressing them, openly discussing them and getting my Mom to the doctor weren’t easy. But imagine if I hadn’t taken the time to notice. The thought of my Mom still driving and leaving another pot on the stove was just what it took to get me to take action. Mom showed a lot of resistance, but ultimately she agreed to move to a senior facility with her sister. The two of them make quite a pair! They play ping pong nightly. My Mom’s walking again. She’s connecting more to people and she’s smiling. That’s the best holiday gift of all.
Lila’s Health Report:
In order to stay healthy, you need to stay active and engaged. In addition to exercise, good nutrition and sleep, you also need a good dose of adventure. So each month I’ll share ways to boost the excitement and passion in your life with adventurous ways to create more wellness in your body, mind and your spirit.