Recognizing trouble and knowing what to do are far from the same thing, especially with problematic driving, dementia, and falls. These billboard-sized signs indicate a person is no longer safe on their own.
Before you do anything, prepare to be calm in all your discussions with your spouse (or parent) on these issues. Remember you are all adults and keep a sense of humor and perspective.
When you see unsafe driving, enlist authority to help you. Find out if new medications are being taken; these might be at fault. Inform your loved one’s doctor; he/she will review the medical situation and may prescribe a driving evaluation. Because a vehicle is a weapon of sorts, hoping this situation will go away is not an option. This article has more suggestions: http://www.homecareassistanceomaha.com/seniors-and-safe-driving/.
Falls may indicate your loved one is unsafe alone at home. Act quickly—the CDC reports the first fall doubles the chance of a second one and the National Institutes of Health indicate 1 in 5 falls in adults over 75 years old results in a head injury and permanent disability.
• Add grab bars, new lighting, hand-held shower, and remove trip hazards and high storage.
• Encourage a doctor visit for untreated medical conditions and medication problems.
• Have the doctor evaluate your loved one’s need for assistance at home. Bargain to bring help in, if necessary.
Your spouse or parent may resent your intrusion and decorating skills, but persist. Not only must the throw rugs go, but the furniture cannot be used as walking supports. Aging-in-place is possible and requires planning and change, as this AARP article explains: https://goo.gl/DHfyYH.
Only a doctor can rule it out. When you’ve observed sustained changes in memory, reasoning, problem solving, money handling, getting lost in familiar places and withdrawal from formerly enjoyed society and activities, dementia is a likely culprit.
Many older adults are worried they have dementia long before you notice changes and are afraid to see a doctor. A variety of conditions can cause confusion, but only a doctor can diagnose diabetes, anemia/vitamin deficiencies, kidney or liver disease, thyroid abnormalities, or heart problems. Cajole, bribe, or by any other means, get your loved one to a doctor for evaluation. Send the doctor a letter prior to the appointment detailing what you have observed; many people with dementia are able to appear more capable for the short duration of a doctor’s visit.
The presence of dementia means a person’s independence, and therefore safety, is declining. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends planning for the time when a person with this disease is unable to care for themselves. See their site for planning information: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-financial-legal-planning.asp.
The best solutions for these serious and difficult situations take time and are a cooperative effort between you and your loved one. Explain why you’re concerned and be prepared for anger and emotional upset from them. Be creative; sometimes an authority figure, such as such as a pastor or legal advisor, can help ease your loved one into cooperation.
Lee Nyberg serves older adults and their families through education on aging issues and her company, Home Care Assistance.