Change in the elderly may not necessarily be a good thing. Sometimes things are not always as they seem. As they age, the dust from their life has somewhat settled and any slight change could actually be the budding of something more serious.

During clinical visits and especially if the elderly patient has been frequently visiting, there might be some telltale signs exhibited that could be an indicator of the patient’s wellbeing status.

Here are 3 warning signs in the elderly that should set off some alarm bells:

1. Weight loss

Losing weight in old age is not normal and could be treated as an alarm bell signalling malnutrition. The Malnutrition Task Force, funded by the Department of Health in the UK says that getting thinner is not a normal part of ageing.

Symptoms of malnutrition include tiredness, low energy, dizziness and getting repeated infections. A study done found that one in 10 people over the age of 65 are thought to be malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, with loneliness and bereavement often leading to a loss of appetite. Malnourished people tend to visit the doctor more and staying longer in hospitals.

"Some people may start to find it hard to stand or carry objects, making preparing meals more difficult, or some may just show a general lack of appetite,” said Lesley Carter, head of the Task Force.

In serious cases and on top of malnutrition, losing weight could lead to insights of underlying dementia, depression, cancer or liver disease.

2. Neglecting personal hygiene

Refusing to bathe, change clothes and neglecting personal hygiene may not be what it is at face value. Depression, for example, may not warrant urgency in keeping up appearances if the elderly is feeling isolated and depressed over life or health issues. Depression is increasingly common among the elderly and it is a much larger issue than mere cleanliness.

If a usually sharply-dressed patient suddenly sports shabbiness on his visit, it could also be that his memory is weakening, taking with it routines like bath and grooming times. If such a patient lives alone and without any form of reminder, days may pass that the he does not think of a bath.

In addition, if a patient has dementia, fear may enter the picture. Harmless events or even well-meaning caregivers might seem like they are out to harm him. The elderly may also be afraid of falling, choosing to forgo bathing and grooming altogether.

3. Fear of falling

Issues such as muscle weakness and joint pain associated with age can make it difficult to move around. In addition, some prescribed medication may have the effect of altering balance for the patient. If the elderly are unsteady on their feet, they might be at risk of falling. If a fall has happened before, they might fear future falls.

The fear of injuring themselves while outside of the home can hold them back from socialising and staying active, no matter how much they are encouraged. This includes giving up on routine visits to the hospital or enduring uncomfortable visits. Being stuck alone, inside the house can cause the elderly to develop depressed feelings and further remove themselves from the outside world. The idea that a fall will render them helpless or even land them in a rehabilitation situation if they break an arm, leg or hip is frightening.

This can be quickly complicated by other apprehensions. A tailored fall prevention program for the patient may ease the worries and eliminate risks of falling without discounting the patient’s sociability. MIMS

Read more:
Specialist Spotlight: Geriatricians
How senior patients approach healthcare
3 medication needs of elderly patients that a pharmacist should know

Sources:
https://www.agingcare.com/articles/surprising-cause-of-depression-in-seniors-177853.htm
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/13/losing-weight-old-age-not-normal-should-seen-alarm-bell/
http://www.eldercarelink.com/In-Home-Care/when-is-poor-hygiene-a-health-issue-for-the-elder.htm
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers/in-depth/aging-parents/art-20044126?pg=2