People often make long-distance phone calls to our firm, expressing concern about their elderly loved ones. They may decide to use the upcoming holiday visit as an opportunity to evaluate their senior’s health. It is typically easier for busy family members to combine the extra time off with a visit to their parents or loved ones. Especially now, with Covid, it may be safer to visit when you’ve been able to distance for a while first. If you live up north and your loved ones are here in Florida, the opportunity to get away from the winter weather makes the trip even more inviting.
Although you have the best of intentions, most Americans are fiercely independent, and elders are no exception. They may be acutely afraid of losing their autonomy. I understand that feeling more and more as I grow older – few of us want to reveal our worst side. When younger family members arrive, elders often rally and become the best versions of themselves during a visit. This effort may last more than a few days. Don’t be surprised if your loved one looks better than you thought they would, and don’t conclude on the first day that everything is as it appears. Give it at least a few days before making a concrete judgment.
How to Know When an Elderly Person Can’t Live Alone
Although your loved one may try to hide their need for assistance, several signs will help you accurately determine their overall condition.
If you are concerned about your elderly family member, ask yourself the following 5 questions during your visit to assess their physical and mental health:
Is Mail Piling up?
Even when someone begins to decline, like most of us, they can usually sort through the junk to get to the important mail. But, in the junk mail there may be certain important documents. Mounting mail may be a sign that your loved one’s life is becoming unmanageable for them. The reasons could include: declining health, depression, or possibly early signs of dementia. Mail piling up should not be ignored.
What’s in Their Refrigerator?
Having a fully stocked fridge isn’t always a good sign. While your loved one might not forget to go grocery shopping, they may forget to eat. A quick look in the icebox will alert you to possible issues. Rather than getting frustrated and cleaning it out, consider this an important sign. I experienced this myself when I visited one client in her home. When I opened the refrigerator, I saw too much food—in fact, it was filled to the brim. The woman, however, was painfully thin. After some conversation, I realized she was not remembering to prepare her meals.
Where Are Their Medications & Supplements?
These should be in one location and up to date. Disorganized or expired medication may mean they are not properly managing their health or remembering to take or refill their prescriptions. What did your elder do with old medications when the doctor changed a prescription midstream? If they need help, who is overseeing the medications?
How Are Bills Being Paid?
Today, many people set up automatic payments for their bills. Some bills and expenses, however, require manual payments. Is your elder up to date on payments? Are they paying bills multiple times? One of my clients, for example, called my office with serious concerns about her finances. She had a long history of managing her own investments and was much more skilled than I was in that area. When we sat down and reviewed her statements, however, I realized she could no longer process the data on an investment statement and needed assistance with her finances.
Where Are Their Legal Documents?
Approach this area with great caution. If you are not the person in the family expected to step up in this area, DON’T. But, if you might be, it can be helpful and preventative to know where things are. These days, few attorneys keep the original Wills, Powers of Attorney, and other legal documents for their clients. Where are they? When was the last time the elder went to see their attorney? Is their plan up to date?
Original legal documents, particularly Powers of Attorney and Last Wills, can be critical in carrying out a plan. However, when someone declines cognitively, they may become focused on storing the documents, or protecting them so they are not destroyed; so much so that they actually do what they are worried about. There may come a time when it would be best to remove the originals from the elder’s home. Too many times people have brought in copies top our office, sure they were the originals. We have been unable to carry out certain Medicaid planning and estates the way the elder would have wanted because the originals were lost.
A final note: Moving a loved one into a long term care facility is tough, at best. And, with Covid, it is particularly frightening. But, Covid has given us more than a devastating illness. Another outcome of this pandemic is extreme loneliness and isolation. For some, waiting it out at home alone is worse than the possible exposure in a facility. Moving into a safe and well managed facility may be exactly what an isolated and vulnerable elderly person needs.
Above all else, remember to enjoy the time with your loved ones this holiday season. Moments become all the more precious as people age. No matter where your loved one may be in their physical and mental health, the opportunity to make lasting memories remains.
Does Your Aging Loved One Need Support? Contact Our Firm Today.
At HKH Elder Law, our legal team is dedicated to preserving the health, wellbeing, and wishes of our society’s most vulnerable citizens. Whether you are unsure of how best to support your elderly loved one, or you need experienced representation and counsel during complex legal procedures, our attorneys are ready to serve you and your family with compassion and commitment.
For a consultation, call HKH Elder Law at (727) 240-2350 today.