Hopefully, the holidays have presented you with some time to visit some of your favorite seniors: your elderly friends and family. Whether they are living on their own or in a senior facility, our oldest friends are somewhat more vulnerable to all sorts of things: diseases, falls and mishaps, and perhaps, saddest of all: elder abuse.
First of all, it’s important to visit your loved ones regularly and at different times: weekends and weekdays, mornings, mid-day and evenings. Varying your visiting pattern will show the range of their behavior, their interactions with others, their most lucid and active times and the times of day that are the most challenging for them and for those who care for them.
What to Look For When Visiting Your Elderly Loved One:
- How do they look? Well fed, relatively steady on their feet with the proper assistive equipment (canes, walkers)?
- How much food is in the house and is it edible?
- Are they wearing clean clothes in good repair?
- What is your loved one’s mood? Are they essentially the same or is there a change in personality? Are they exhibiting signs of depression, including withdrawal? Are they becoming angry or aggressive? Confused? Are they acting out verbally, physically or sexually? Any of these personality changes or significant new behaviors need to be investigated by a geriatric psychiatrist and/or a neurologist.
- Do they have any recent injuries or scars? How do they explain them?
- How do they smell? Does their body and hair seem clean? Can they still brush their teeth or do they need assistance? Who is helping them with self care items and are they getting enough assistance?
- Are there any new people hanging about whom you never knew before? Who are these people, what is their role and are they getting paid or asking for/receiving money from your loved one? Follow up to make sure they are not taking money from your loved one, taking advantage of their naivete.
- Check the mail. If the number of charitable solicitations, sweepstakes or credit card offers seems especially high, this is cause for great concern. This should lead to someone talking to them about who they are giving money to, and in what amount. Charitable organizations are notorious for upping the amount of solicitations based upon regular, small amounts of donations, which is very enticing to older people, who are often not only generous, but forgetful of when they last donated.
- What is the quality of their help? Do they seem honest? How are they compensated? Do they know too much about how to access funds? Are they working hard enough and giving enough attention?
- What is the state of your loved one’s belongings, especially jewelry and furniture as well as cars? Take a picture of their environment, especially their valuables so you can help them keep track of what’s significant. If items are missing, follow up immediately with their paid help, or with nursing home supervisors.
- If they wear glasses or dentures, are they wearing them regularly and do they fit properly? Losing dentures is a serious problem for the elderly. Once they have lost their false teeth, they lose interest in eating, including the sociability of meals. If they don’t wear their dentures for an extended time, getting new ones to fit comfortably is difficult, so this “edentulous” state can become permanent and depressing.
- For seniors living in communal housing, what are the other residents like? Do any of them wander into your loved ones’ rooms? Are any of them violent? Who controls the situation? Is your loved one safe or do they need to find a safer new place to live?
Visiting loved ones serves a dual purpose. Firstly our visits ideally provide some companionship, diversion and comfort to them. But we also have to use these encounters to gently investigate how they are doing, if they are well-cared for or if more assistance is needed to keep them safe and prevent elder abuse in all of its varieties.