When Living Alone Isn't Safe
Q&A with Kimberly Jensen
Last updated 1/10/2022 at 7:02pm | View PDF
My mother is living in her home alone. When I went to visit her for Thanksgiving, her home was a mess. When do I know when it is not safe for her to be living alone?
This year, I received more calls than usual regarding what families found when they visited their parents living alone. Elders can sound fine when you are checking in on them on the phone. It can be very hard to know from a distance when a relative is losing his or her independence.
The following are things to look out for:
Missed Appointments: Contact your family members physician's office and find out if your elder has missed any appointments with them. If your mom or dad did not call-in advance to cancel, and just did not show up, that could be an issue. Memory decline can be playing a part.
Maintaining Proper Hygiene: Are you seeing a decline in their hygiene like unkept hair, lack of bathing, dirty clothing, incontinence or not appropriately dressing for the current season?
Easily Disoriented: Are they not recognizing familiar places, wandering aimlessly around the home without completing any task, or getting lost in a well-known place, like a commonly used grocery store?
Loss of Memory: Is your family member being forgetful about time, place, season? I am not talking about forgetting where you put your keys. Repetitive thought sharing and confusion could signal dementia or mental illness.
Word Problems: Are they having difficulties recalling a very common word or repeating a sentence that you just said?
Random Check Writing: Are you looking through their checkbook and finding multiple checks to charities or to specific people who you are not familiar with?
Physical Aggression: An elder that attacks someone because they are believed to pose a threat shows an inability to control feelings of distress.
Making Inaccurate Assertions: A sign and symptom of dementia is increased paranoia. "You are trying to steal my money." Distrust for no reason needs to be investigated.
Unopened Mail: Look around for unpaid bills or other correspondence that has not been replied to.
Spoiled Food: Food left on the counter and not refrigerated is a huge danger. Check cartons of milk to see if they have expired.
Poor Nutrition: Has your elder lost a significant amount of weight? Very often, loss of appetite or unwillingness to cook for themselves is a sign they are not safe at home alone anymore.
Scorched Pots and Pans: This shows that they are no longer able to cook safely anymore. This can pose a fire hazard.
Mysterious Bruising: Unexplained injuries and bruising can be signs of falling.
Car Dents and Damage: This may mean they are no longer safe to drive. While you are visiting, have them drive you around. See if it might be time to have the conversation about hanging the keys up.
With families living in other cities and states, it is very easy to miss out on what is going on at your family member's home. Adult children are often filled with shock when they see the decline that even one year can make.
I always encourage family members to move their loved ones closer to make sure they are in a safe environment and not endangering themselves.
Kimberly Jensen has been working with Quail Park as a Senior Resource Advocate for over ten years and has helped hundreds of families find solutions to their senior problems. If you have a question, you can send it to her at KimberlyJ@QPCypress.com or call (559) 737-7443.