August 29th, 2011 at 12:53 pm
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Is an elder struggling to keep a clean house?

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

Admittedly, we all have our personal habits when it comes to our homes. Some of us are sticklers for keeping things clean and organized. However, this isn’t always the case when it comes to older adults. Changes in an older adult’s ability to keep up and maintain their homes may signal the need for additional observation and, possibly, intervention.

Although these changes could be temporary–for a variety of reasons–it is possible the house isn’t looking like it’s former self because the elder is suffering from depression, experiencing greater physical limitations or is dealing with cognitive difficulties.

Cannot pass the white glove test

While most of us are able to keep our homes in tip-top shape, many elders fall behind on housework. What is happening? Keeping things clean requires good vision as well as the manual dexterity to get at the hard to reach places.

Has your elder rebuked your offer to help? Sometimes the offer of help seems like an insult to an older adult and it can trigger a very negative reaction. As one grandmother told me, “My daughter doesn’t like how I keep my house. She does not know how hard it is. I get so tired. I will do it myself when I have the energy.”

When consulting with this family, I suggested to they offer the services of their teenage daughter during the summer months. The plan revolved around this idea: the grandmother would teach the granddaughter how to cook. They would have lunch together and–eventually–the granddaughter asked if she could do some of the sweeping since the grandmother had a split level home. Next, she told her grandmother she did not want her on a ladder and offered to wash the windows. Her grandmother took her up on her offer to help and ultimately took their already close relationship to another level.

It is quite interesting to see how older adults take their grandchildren’s suggestions a little better than those of their children.

Dealing with an increases in clutter

I’m not addressing long-term hoarding patterns here, but a general increase in the collection of everyday items, such as magazines, mail or general odds-and-ends.

For example, many avid readers who begin to experience vision problems or reading deficits secondary to a stroke or dementia will often glance at the headlines and perhaps the comics, obituaries or sports page Then, they set the paper aside to read later, but never get to it because the articles are either too long or the print too small. No matter what the cause–vision problems, reduced mobility, depression or decreasing organizational skills–stacks of newspapers, unopened mail or piles of paper may begin to accumulate.

After a presentation, one of the younger club members asked me to assess his older friend’s ability to live alone. The friend asked for a referral after he noticed significant short-term memory problems and several dents on the elder’s vehicle.

I visited the home and found wall-to-wall newspapers throughout the house. The only areas not covered in newsprint were the kitchen counter and a few random chairs. I believe if we were to investigate further, we would find other areas where he was not functioning effectively as well. His Health Care Power of Attorney was his niece who lived in another state, so we called her and provided an update. The man was scheduled for a geriatric assessment to help the family be more informed before they had the critical conversations about eldercare that would be needed for future planning.

The elder’s home: what to watch for

Be sure to keep an eye on how your loved one maintains his or her home. In particular, watch for the following:

  1. Strange odors
  2. Pets not being cared for or fed
  3. Increased clutter
  4. Lack of cleaning

As I noted above, when elders struggle to clean their house or remove clutter, other issues could be lurking. If you live out of town, try to visit more often when possible, or have conversations with a close friend or family member who can alert you to any changes they might notice.

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