Written by Valerie Hopson-Bell
The call I usually get is right after a major holiday. It will be from an adult daughter or son sounding bewildered. It will start with, “I don’t know what’s going on with my dad, but it appears he’s not taking his medication or eating properly.” Or, “My father died, and suddenly mom is a total wreck; apparently, dad had been hiding her decline.”
Other times, families become concerned when they find rotting food left in the refrigerator, bills not paid on time or their loved ones no longer able to balance their checkbook. They notice unexplained dents in the car. Their loved ones get lost on their way to familiar places or on their way home. These are all red flags.
Poor judgment is another telltale sign that seniors are experiencing cognitive changes. They may overspend, especially with television shopping channels, or subscribe to multiple magazines in hopes of winning sweepstakes.
I know you’re saying, “So what do I do when I recognize these signs in my loved one?” You should help them schedule an appointment for a comprehensive geriatric assessment.
This is the first step in understanding the changes that may be negatively affecting their quality of life.
Benefits of a Geriatric Assessment
The geriatric assessment is usually conducted by a geriatrician or a gerontological nurse practitioner. The assessment is much more detailed than a regular physical examination and it includes a medical history component. A standard medical evaluation works reasonably well in other populations, but tends to miss some of the ubiquitous problems faced by elder patients.
Some older adults may be resistant to doing this type of an assessment because of various reasons, but it is an extremely important step in developing a plan of care for the individual. This assessment can look at whether someone’s medications are interacting negatively or that they may have an undiagnosed infection which could cause problems down the road. Fortunately for those who may learn that their loved one has dementia, oftentimes the practitioner can determine where the dementia stems from. This could be advantageous in getting prescribed medications to help slow the progression of dementia, as well as lower anxiety levels and/or enhance your loved one’s mood. All of which can increase the potential for continued independence and a greater quality of life.
The geriatrician will use the assessment to develop treatment and long-term care plans, and arrange for primary care and rehabilitative services if needed.
Restricting Driving Privileges
If through the assessment, it is determined that the patient should no longer drive, the medical professional can help explain it. They also can notify the Department of Motor Vehicles about the determination, and the patient’s license may be suspended.
That doesn’t guarantee that the patient will no longer drive. The family might have to disable the car or remove the keys from the home. However, when a loved one loses such a privilege and some of his or her independence, it is important to provide options for transportation so the person can remain active and less dependent on others.
If you recognize yourself or a loved one in any of the above scenarios, it is imperative to learn what resources are in your community. Expect to make several phone calls to find the help you need. Try not to place these calls when your time is limited, such as your lunch hour. Set aside time when your chance of being interrupted is less. Get a notebook, record the name of the agency you’re calling, and person you’re speaking with, and write down the information you receive.
It is only through your advocacy that you will meet your goal of giving your loved ones’ quality care and helping them to live a quality life.