Problems Affecting the Aging Population
The great actress Bette Davis summed it up well: “Old age is no place for sissies.” Most of us would agree with this sentiment as we become young adults and notice for the first time how our parents are aging.
As they age beyond 60 their bodies begin to break down. Hearing and eyesight worsen. Their joints begin to give out. Suddenly the woman who worked a long day at the office and then spent her evenings and weekends cooking, cleaning, coaching your soccer team and helping you with your homework can no longer get upstairs without help. Walking from the car into church is enough to wear her out. What happened to the dynamo who ran your household?
People over the age of 65 can suffer from a myriad of health problems. The most common, according to the National Institutes of Health, are hypertension, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and bronchial asthma. Other common maladies include cataracts, anemia, and skin problems.
Changes in Physical and Cognitive Abilities
Many of these problems come on so gradually that it’s difficult to notice them in ourselves or in our parents. Changes in physical and cognitive abilities that may occur with age can be difficult to detect—for senior citizens and their family members, friends, and caregivers. To help in determining when someone may need assistance in the home, the federal government has compiled this list of 10 warning signs. Any one of the following behaviors may indicate the need to take action. It is also important to inform the older adult’s physician of these changes.
1. Changing eating habits, resulting in weight loss, appetite loss, or missed meals
2. Neglecting personal hygiene, including clothing, body odor, oral health, nails, and skin
3. Neglecting the home, with a noticeable change in tidiness and/or sanitation
4. Exhibiting inappropriate behavior, such as being unusually loud, quiet, paranoid, or agitated, or making phone calls at unusual hours
5. Changing relationship patterns, causing friends and neighbors to express concern
6. Showing physical injuries that may have resulted from general weakness, forgetfulness, or misuse of alcohol or medication
7. Decreasing or stopping participation in activities that were once enjoyable, such as a bridge or book club, dining with friends, or attending religious services
8. Exhibiting forgetfulness, resulting in unopened mail, newspaper piles, unfilled prescriptions, or missed appointments
9. Mishandling finances, such as not paying bills or paying them more than once and losing or hiding money
10. Making unusual purchases, such as more than one subscription to the same magazine, entering an unusually large number of contests, or increasing purchases from television advertisements (Source: Eldercare.gov.)
When to Seek a Doctor’s Opinion
If your parent is exhibiting even one of these 10 signs, you should probably consult his or her primary care physician for help. The doctor can perform a social history as part of evaluating your parent’s medical and social care needs. The doctor may ask for input from family members on some of the topics, such as typical daily activities and the need for caregivers.
During the social history, the doctor will most likely ask about the following topics:
• Marital status
• Living arrangements
• Financial status
• Work history
• Typical daily activities (for example, how meals are prepared, what activities add meaning to life, and where problems may be occurring)
• Need for and availability of caregivers
• History of trauma, losses, and coping strengths
• History of substance use and legal issues
• The older person’s own caregiving responsibilities
After considering your parent’s responses and your own, the physician can offer an opinion about how much support and/or care your parent may require.