Nursing Home: When Is It Time?

Talking with your elderly parent or grandparent about health care is tough.  Especially when the talk revolves around a possible admission to the nursing home.

It is everyone’s hope to stay at home for the duration of their lives. But sometimes changing health conditions, declining physical ability or dementia make even the most  comfortable home a safety hazard. As caregivers it is easy for us to see when an elder isn’t safe at home but trying to convince an elder to leave their home can be a very difficult and uncomfortable task. The conversation about leaving home can also be complicated by a timeline based on declining health.

Some families choose to ignore the problem hoping that “it will work itself out” in fear of making the elder angry at them.  Others feel that it is none of their business and an older person should “be able to do whatever they want.”

But when safety is a factor, harm could come to the elder at home resulting in a prolonged hospital stay or worse. When that happens it becomes everyone’s business.

So how do you know when an elder is no longer safe living on their own?  Here are some simple ways you can tell if they are in danger of having an accident.

  • Decreased Strength – Is the elder having difficulty standing without holding onto something for balance? Do they need a lot of help to stand up after sitting? Do they lack the strength to accomplish daily tasks like dressing, bathing or grooming? This may indicate a decrease in overall strength that could lead to falls and could put the elder at risk for serious injury.
  • Losses Their Balance – Is the elder using furniture, tables and shelves as crutches when walking around the house? Do they have unexplained cuts and bruises? Do they have a walker or cane they suddenly refuse to use?  The elder finds themselves desperately holding on to things to keep them from falling when walking around the home. This could indicate that the elder is starting to lose their balance.  This usually is combined with decreased strength. Loss of balance could result in a fall leading to serious injury especially if that fall happens in the bathroom.
  • Leaving the Stove On– This is a classic example often used to describe patients with Alzheimer’s Dementia. We all get distracted and make mistakes but most of us catch our error and correct it before any real damage happens.  A person with dementia doesn’t have the ability to catch their mistake often with tragic consequences. If the elder lacks basic safety awareness it may make living at home alone a dangerous proposition.
  • Not Eating or Drinking – Have you noticed that your elder is losing a lot of weight.  Does their skin look saggy and unhealthy? Do they have expired food in the refrigerator? Do they constantly refuse food and drink because they are “not hungry”? If your elder is not eating, drinking or lacks the ability to go to the grocery store to get fresh food they could be at risk for malnutrition, dehydration or both.  Malnutrition and Dehydration are common ailments in the elderly.  They also cause may of the other symptoms listed in this article.

If the elder you care for is showing any of the signs in this article it doesn’t mean they should automatically check into the nursing home. It does mean they are having trouble being independent and may need some help through home care, assisted living or nursing home.

Before you make any decisions, take them to the doctor so your elder can get a complete check-up.  After you know the elders health status, talk with them about being safe and what types of services they would need to stay safe at home. After that investigate community resources that could help your elder get the services they need.  Non-profit agencies like the Area Agency on Aging or community centers offer low-cost services to the elderly in their community.

Read Related: Community Resources

Most importantly have the conversation. The elder may not show it but they will appreciate it.

About Tony Fischer

As an advocate for elders and their families, Tony has experience in the entire healthcare continuum. He has worked in hospitals, nursing homes, home care, hospice, and non-profits. His vast and unique experience led him to become a consultant that helps clients navigate the senior healthcare system. Tony also works hand and hand with healthcare providers to improve and streamline customer service. The company he founded with his wife Lori, Elder Advocacy Group Inc, advocates for seniors and senior health issues. They do this through the innovative concepts of Life Care Planning and Elder Care Coordination. Through these concepts Tony is able to help elders and their families plan to age successfully on their terms by protecting their right to choose the healthcare services they want provided in the place they want it. Tony shares his talents with other senior advocacy groups like the Area Agency on Aging Advisory Council where he advises a non-profit serving seniors in Wayne County, Michigan. He also produces FREE online content for seniors and their families