The holidays find many senior living communities scrambling to field inquiries from the adult children of aging parents. The primary reason is simple.
“In this age of scattered families connecting by phone and email, the holidays are often the only time when folks gather together in person,” says Doug Buttner, Regional Operations Director for Harmony Senior Services. “It may have been weeks or even months since the last time they saw mom or dad and they call us concerned about the changes in that time.”
Although many see a senior living communities as a great way to ensure safety, security or even convenience for an aging parent, they miss one of vital factors that can make a big difference in quality of life: Isolation.
“Several recent studies tell us of the importance of social and emotional stimulation and the effects of isolation on health,” says Jeff Gruber, Director of Clinical Services for Harmony. “Keeping your mind alert, talking to people, doing things, connectedness, these are vital to good health.”
One study by Brigham Young University researchers in the journal PLoS Medicine finds that maintaining social connections – friends, family, neighbors or colleagues – can improve our odds of survival by 50 percent. The study compared the effects of isolation on health as being equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day – more harmful than a lack of exercise and twice as harmful as obesity.
Another report in the Harvard School of Public Health described optimism, confidence and positive experiences “as heart helpful as any drug or fat free diet.”
What to Look for – Some Red Flags
So you are home for the holidays and feeling a little concerned. What warning signs should you look for to suggest that it’s time to find a new environment for you aging parent? And how do you start this sometimes delicate conversation? Here are some ideas from our experts:
Are there doctors’ appointments or routine activities being missed or regularly rescheduled? This could signal growing mobility challenges or social withdrawal.
Work to be done
Are there repairs that have lingered longer than necessary or obvious chores that have gone undone? This could indicate physical challenges or suggest that someone is uncertain about how and where to find help.
Out of character
Are you seeing uncharacteristic changes in style or hygiene? Signs of growing physical and emotional challenges include wearing the same clothes for several days in a row, having trouble shaving or not clipping toe and fingernails.
Behind on bills
Even if money is not a problem, some struggling seniors get behind on bills due to an inability to keep track of things or manage finances. This is a warning sign that may be far less obvious if money is not discussed.
A change in tone, demeanor or even motivation can take many forms and can be a sign of stress that mom or dad is either not aware of or having trouble communicating. This stress can even be caused by changes in routine that effect diet, health or socialization. Be patient before you assume the worst. Try to look for causes or stress that may be making the person you love agitated.
Making a Move Towards Making the Move
Often times broaching the subject of admitting help is needed and considering a plan to leave a longtime home can be difficult.
“Start with a conversation about challenges and maybe look for ways to offer or get help with chores or challenges,” says Jeff Gruber. “When exploring senior living options, consider finding ways to experience the lifestyle and environment in non-threatening ways.”
Harmony communities regularly schedule “Taste and Tours” where you can enjoy lunch in the dining room to sample the cuisine and meet residents.
“If the timing of our Taste and Tours doesn’t work, call and schedule a personal time to come in for a meal and tour,” says Doug Buttner. “In addition, we often bring experts to help seniors and families with complicated issues such as finance and investing, veterans’ benefits, moving and downsizing and health care. Check our websites for details or call to be included in updates on future events.”