Tips on Identifying Needs When Working With the Elderly

Identifying needs of the elderly can be difficult, especially if you are working with the elderly or simply trying to help parents or other family members.

Your parents will often reassure you that all is well because they do not want you to worry about them. The truth is, they may not want your help and truly feel they do not need it.

You are in a difficult situation because you do not want to pry into their affairs, but you are beginning to realize help may be needed. Here are a few tips to help assess the situation objectively:

#1 When you enter the home, what is your first reaction? Does the home seem overly hot or cool? Are the rooms unduly stuffy or dark? Are window shades and curtains drawn in midday for no apparent reason?

#2 Is there an odor in the home? Elderly often have urinary problems and could have stained clothing or even dribbles on the floor to the bathroom. Because of loss of vision and sensory perceptions, they may not be aware of the problem themselves.

#3 How is the kitchen, are dishes done? Now, let’s be realistic here; if you come to my home unannounced, you may find dirty dishes or some chores undone. However, when they begin to stack up, it could be a problem. Notice the unwashed dishes; is there dried food in them? Is there food left on the counter from the last meal?

#4 Check out the refrigerator. Are leftovers stored without covers? Are the fruits and vegetables wilted or spoiled. Check to see if condiments are stored properly and not too old to use.

#5 If possible, check out the medicine cabinets or drawers. Check the dates to determine if medicine prescriptions are being filled properly and taken as prescribed. You may need to contact the doctor or pharmacist.

#6 Is the trash emptied or are all the waste baskets overflowing? Are tables and chairs piled high with papers, mail, and magazines?

#7 When visiting a parent or loved one you do not visit often, learn to focus on changes in behavior or housekeeping. Do you see signs of increased neglect in any of the above areas? What has changed since your last visit?

#8 If you have concerns about whether or not the mail is handled properly and bills are paid on time, you may have to contact utility companies to make sure they are up to date.

Recognizing the need for help is a beginning. Once you know what the real needs are, you can seek help in meeting those needs. It is a good thing to keep a small notebook to list any changes you observe.

We are fortunate today to have access to many agencies that work with the elderly. Knowing the extent of their situation is critical to ensuring a proper response to our questions when seeking advice.

Whether the elderly are family or friends and neighbors, respect their privacy and honor their wishes as much as possible. At the same time, do your best to correctly assess the situation so that you can get them the help they need.

By taking time to look at the entire home and personal needs objectively, you can determine whether the need can be met by part-time help or not. If the situation calls for more drastic measures, you will be prepared to help meet that need.

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