If you have aging relatives, you can help them live long, healthy lives by paying attention to changes in their appearance and behavior. Even if they're up to date on their doctor's visits, a family member who sees them regularly may be more likely to notice that something is different.
Doctors are often focused on internal organs, cancer screenings, and respiratory issues. If a patient doesn't report a potential problem, the doctor may not realize there is reason for concern. For example, during a telehealth visit, a primary care doctor may not be able to assess a patient’s ability to walk.
Here are seven health problems that are easy to overlook. If you notice any of them, talk to your relative’s medical team to get them the help they need.
1. Depression, isolation, and other cognitive issues. If your loved one is experiencing mood changes or is uninterested in their usual social activities, it may be a sign of a medical problem.
2. Nutrition. Our nutrition needs change as we age, and aging taste buds and certain medications can make food less appealing. If you have concerns about how an aging relative is eating, talk to their doctor.
3. Foot problems. When was your relative's last podiatric evaluation? Looking at a senior's feet can be a helpful way to assess their overall level of self-care.
4. Hearing and vision loss. If you suspect that changes in hearing and eyesight are affecting your relative's ability to communicate and get around, encourage them to get tested. Unaddressed hearing loss can be associated with subsequent dementia.
5. Balance issues. If your aging loved one mentions experiencing dizziness or vertigo, schedule a doctor's visit. Unsteadiness can be a symptom of a medical problem, and it also puts the patient at risk of falls.
6. Oral hygiene. Be sure your relative gets regular dental care, because mouth health is closely connected with overall health. In older patients, gum inflammation may be associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other conditions. Dry mouth, a side effect of many medications, can contribute to gum disease and cavities.
7. Sleep. Sleep patterns may change with age, but a good night's sleep is always important. If your relative is struggling with insomnia or other sleep issues, make sure their doctor knows.
For specific guidance on how to monitor an aging loved one’s health and get them the best possible care, contact an expert health advisor. Family dynamics often become more complex when healthcare is involved, and a health advisor offers an unbiased outside perspective to help you and your family make informed healthcare decisions.