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Questions to Ask Elderly Relatives to Assess their Elder Care Needs

elderly woman in wheelchair next to christmas tree and caregiver

When helping elderly parents, relatives, and friends take stock of their caregiving and living situation needs, it is important to help them ask (and answer) some appropriate starter questions.

Although many people will resist speaking about their needs and their plans for growing older, it is important to have loving and open conversations on these subjects long before decisions and changes must be made.

If you discuss any (or all!) of the following questions with your loved ones, it will help all of you be more prepared for life’s changes and uncertainties, particularly when facing chronic illnesses or challenges due to aging.

1. How are you feeling?

Assessing an aging person’s general health and well-being is one of the most important questions to ask. Asking this question on a regular basis can help you get the “big picture” of any daily health struggles or concerns they might be having.

Whatever answers you receive, you might have to play detective. The elderly often display nonspecific symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness, all of which can signal a wide variety of health issues. You don’t have to diagnose their issues, but over the course of weeks and months you can learn which health issues are challenging your loved one the most. Those are the issues you need to address when accompanying your loved one in health care situations, or when making calls to health care staff on their behalf.

2. Is there anything I can help you with while I’m here?

As individuals age, many of them make no future plans other than hoping to “age in place,” or stay indefinitely in their own homes. This is not always possible. Asking regularly what they would most like to help with not only assists the person you are caring for in the moment, it will also help you learn what activities of daily life they are most struggling with.

For some, it may be safety and mobility issues. For others, it might be worsening vision or hearing. Still others will suffer from loneliness and the stress that living alone can cause. Not everyone will be comfortable asking for help, but may accept help when it is more proactively offered.

Depending on your relative’s or friend’s answers, you can help them immediately, and you can also learn to anticipate some of their future needs. For those who need more help walking, you might offer to get them a cane or a walker. For those with low vision, you can assist them with learning about low vision aids and other tools.

3. What would you like to do today?

Assessing a person’s interests and plans for the future can be tricky in the best of times. Asking more pointed questions about someone’s feelings about long-term or assisted living care can result in defensive answers that the person has no plan other than aging in place.

Of course, that is not always possible. But by asking a person on a regular basis what they would like to do, or where they would like to go, you can learn what is really most important to them in terms of their surroundings.

Do they just want to be left alone to listen to audiobooks? Would they enjoy an outing to a restaurant or to a Bingo game? Would they prefer to take a walk, or simply sit outdoors and enjoy nature?

Make a note of these preferences. If it becomes necessary that your loved one must consider living in a care facility, knowing their preferences for home amenities, socialization opportunities, and facility settings will all help you choose the best possible fit for the elderly person you are assisting.

When the time comes they may still resist the move, but if you are well informed on their personal likes and dislikes, you have a better chance of making an easier transition into a senior care setting.

Aging presents specialized challenges for everyone. If you are assisting an elderly relative or a friend, it is best to ask these friendly questions on a regular basis. Knowing a person well and having previously explored their personal likes, dislikes, and quirks, can help you and them make a more-informed decision when a move to a different living situation becomes necessary.


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