When older loved-ones begin neglecting themselves


By Angela Rocheleau

Experiencing the decline of aging parents or grandparents is difficult to watch. When an elderly family member becomes depressed or is neglecting themselves, roles are reversed, and children become caregivers.

The transition can be hard on the whole family. Many adults struggle to find the right care for elderly parents while balancing careers and families. We often receive calls from distraught family members saying, “Our parents or grandparents are not taking care of themselves properly, I am afraid they will get sick. What do we do?” Here are some helpful answers to questions we often receive from family members.

Q. My grandmother lives alone. She is in her 90s and has always been independent. However, lately when we visit I notice there is no decent food in the house, the place is a mess and she doesn’t even get off the couch. In addition I don’t think she is paying too much attention to her personal hygiene. I have offered to do things but she insists she is fine. Her doctor says she is in reasonably good health for her age. How can I help her?

A. Some seniors as they age have difficulty with everyday tasks such as housekeeping, cooking and sometimes even bathing. Often times a senior may just lose interest in these tasks.

It is important that your grandmother eats nutritional meals, remains active, and maintains her daily hygiene tasks. We have found that seniors will often refuse assistance from a family member as they feel as though they are a burden to their family.

This would be an opportune time to introduce a caring, trained home health aide that could visit a limited amount of hours per week. This aide could begin by doing some of the homemaking tasks, assisting with personal care and preparing nutritional meals for your grandmother. In addition, the aide will observe your grandmother to see if there are other reasons to be concerned. Beginning services now will facilitate an easier transition to increased care should it be needed in the future. These services will provide family members with peace of mind knowing that their grandmother is receiving the care she needs.

Q. My father-in-law has been acting strange lately. He complains a lot about not having a feeling of well-being. Since his wife passed away a year ago his moods seem to be extreme and I am worried that he is depressed and not making good decisions. He is in his 80s and still in relatively good health. What should I do?

A. Depression often translates differently in the elderly than in younger people. Rather than express feelings of sadness, depressed seniors may describe physical complaints such as increased aches and pains, headaches, weakness and very often, trouble sleeping.

Increases in anxiety, irritability, and withdrawal along with a decrease in attention to appearance are also common signs. A bit of sadness is a common companion of aging, especially when loved ones are lost. However, when melancholy becomes outright depression, the elderly are at risk.

It is often the responsibility of their children to recognize the signs of depression and then take the steps to address it. Spend time with your father-in-law. See if perhaps you can discuss this with his doctor. It might be wise to get your father-in-law for some help with household chores and to provide companionship. These services are available through a private duty health care agency. It may be best to seek assistance sooner rather than later.

Angela Rocheleau has 25 years of experience in the home health care industry focusing on leadership roles for the past two decades. She serves on the Better Business Bureau board of Central New England and the Executive Board of the Mass Council for Home Care Aides.