When you care for a senior loved one, it can often feel challenging to stay on top of everything they need – not just because of the work and stress involved in doing so, but often just as much because of the difficulty of learning what your loved one needs from them.
For reasons that can vary from shame, guilt, or simply not knowing better, many seniors aren’t always forthright about things they’re dealing with that need your attention (or that of a doctor). That means you have to make the effort to learn what they’re thinking, feeling, and dealing with.
Being proactive in communicating with your loved one can help you catch warning signs about illnesses or other issues early. It may feel a little awkward to ask questions like this at first, but make an effort to do so for the good of both of you.
- Have you been feeling any new or unusual pain lately?
Everyday aches and pains are a regular part of aging, but that expectation can sometimes make it difficult for seniors to recognize when a new pain or discomfort is signaling a bigger problem. If your loved one is the kind of person to downplay their pain or put off talking to a doctor about it, then it falls to you to try to get that information from them.
- What meds did you take today?
If your loved one has a lot of meds to keep track of, especially if any of those meds could interact badly if taken at the wrong time, then check in frequently to make sure they’re staying on top of taking the right meds at the right time.
If you want a shortcut to making this easier, look into electronic medication dispensers. It’ll be much harder for your loved one to forget a medication, and much easier for you to confirm that they’ve taken what they should.
- Have you been exercising?
Be prepared for a groan or an eye roll in response to this one, but ask anyway. So many health problems and issues that seniors deal with can be alleviated with regular exercise. A little encouragement from you will make them that much more likely to stick with some kind of exercise routine.
- What meals did you eat this week?
This question can help you figure out two important things:
- Whether or not they’ve been eating healthy enough – if their doctor has recommended they cut down on certain ingredients, you want to know if they’re sticking with the prescribed diet.
- Whether or not they’re getting enough meals in – if your loved one is depressed or having a hard time figuring out how to prepare meals for themselves as basic tasks get more difficult with age, you need to know.
If the answer suggests either might be an issue, you can take steps to oversee more of their meals to ensure they maintain their health guidelines and get as many meals as they need.
- What did you do today?
This is another question that can potentially help you spot the possibility of depression or get a feel for if their life simply isn’t active enough. Sometimes asking a person outright if they’re unhappy or lonely won’t produce as honest of an answer as asking about some of the symptoms that those feelings can cause.
If their answer suggests they tend to spend their days rarely leaving the house or communicating with other people, then you should help nudge them toward pursuing more active hobbies and social events.
- How have you been sleeping?
Many of the common symptoms of aging, such as joint pain and hot flashes, can lead to greater difficulty sleeping through the night. Not sleeping enough is both the cause of many potential health and life problems, and often caused by issues a senior should get checked. For both reasons, it’s good for you to know when your loved one is having trouble sleeping so you can help them diagnose the problem and figure out a solution.
- Are you having trouble with the stairs/bath/reaching things in the kitchen, etc.?
Most homes are not built with the needs of seniors in mind. And most seniors selected the home they plan to age in before they were thinking about the needs they’d be likely to have as a senior. For that reason, you have to stay aware of the ways in which the home may not be living up to your loved one’s needs. Look for things in the house that may be causing them difficulties – reaching items in the top cabinet, getting in and out of the tub, or walking up and down the stairs, to name a few possibilities – and ask about them now and then.
A lot of these issues can be solved with the proper home modifications and taking care of them before they become a problem can help you prevent potential falls or injuries.
- When was the last time you went out?
Staying home all the time is easy after retirement, but it’s not healthy. Many seniors can benefit from making a point of getting out of the house more often. If you know your loved one is a social butterfly that’s always heading from one place to another, then you may not have much to worry about.
If your loved one has already lost many of their friends to moves out of town or death or if they no longer drive, then this is an especially important question to ask. You want to make sure that they’re living an active live and not sitting at home lonely every day.
- Have you checked your bank accounts and paid your bills this month?
Many seniors are unlikely to start asking their loved ones for help once paying bills becomes more difficult to manage – that’s especially true as many of them won’t realize it’s something they’re forgetting or failing to do. So ask. Whenever you go through the process of doing your own accounting and bill pay for the month, make a habit of asking them about theirs as well.
If you can catch it early once your loved one is starting to have a harder time with their finances, then you can have a conversation with them about whether or not it’s time for them to let you take over some of the tasks required.
- What are your end-of-life wishes?
This isn’t an easy conversation to have, but every caregiver should know what their loved one wants when they’re in their final days. Ask about a health care directive, if they have a will, and any preferences they have about their funeral and remains.
These conversations are often uncomfortable for people, but it’s important to sit down and have them. You’ll be relieved to have clear answers when the time comes to heed them, and your loved one will know that they can trust you to carry out their wishes.
A few questions can go a long way in helping you provide better for your loved one and make sure they have everything they need. Prioritize communication so you can help them stay more comfortable, safe, and healthy in their senior years.