Vital Signs: 5 Troublesome Health Concerns of Aging Parents

According to statistics by the Center for Disease Control, by 2020, the United States will have a population of 71 million older adults. If you’re a baby boomer with a parent in that age bracket, you may be worried about how your parent’s health will change as the years progress. Here are the five signs your loved one may need assistance or additional resources while they are in your care:

1. A change in physical appearance or presentation.

According to Cynthia Lord, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, and an expert in family medicine, a change in physical appearance can indicate a greater problem. “Weight loss can signal signs of cancer, problems with their teeth, or swallowing disorders,” says Lord.

“Easy bruising can signal leukemia, results of a fall, evidence of elder abuse, or the need for medication adjustment.” Additionally, if an elder is having difficulty with walking, such as an unsteady gait, this can signal orthopedic problems such as arthritis. “Changes in dress, grooming and hygiene can signal dementia,” says Lord.

2. Loss of Balance.

Tara Cortes, Executive Director of the Hartford Institute for Geriatrics and Professor in Geriatric Nursing at the New York University College of Nursing, says that having a fall or frequent loss of balance is a red flag.

This could be a sign of dementia. Additionally, according to Cortes, this could be attributed to muscle weakness, muscle joints, as well as current diet.

3. Change in sleep pattern or hygiene.

Although a change in sleep patterns may be a natural sign of aging, caregivers should be concerned when the change is noticeable enough to affect their daily sleep and routine. “Depression in the elderly can lead to excessive sleeping or early morning wakening,” says Lord. Furthermore, if there has been a recent change in medication, caregivers should keep track of how the medication is affecting their daily sleep patterns. If a significant change such as excessive sleepiness or difficulty sleeping is noted, the caregiver should consult with the primary doctor, as well as any other specialists, to discuss changes in dosage.

4. Adjustment in Lifestyle.

Any change in lifestyle or daily activities is a sign that should be taken seriously. An active parent who now avoids driving may have a vision, hearing, orthopedic, or cognitive problem. Tell-tale signs include getting lost, “fender benders,” and small, but frequent accidents.

“This may be a sign of dementia,” says Lord. Caregivers should take keep track of the frequency of these occurrences and any other driving-related incidents.

5. Dietary changes.

“Changes in diet are common in the elderly but may be an indicator of more serious disease,” says Lord. According to Lord, certain types of cancer, such as gastric cancer, can cause early fullness. “Esophageal cancer and motility disorders of the esophagus may cause choking, difficulty swallowing, or pain on swallowing.” Caregivers should also keep track of any failure to take prescribed medications, as this may be a sign of memory loss.

Additional resources:

AARP Driver Safety Program
National Alliance for Caregiving
Elder Rights Protection

Source: Stacy Lipson is a freelance writer for national and regional publications. She specializes in health, wellness, and green living. Follow her on Twitter @stacylipson.