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If you’re overly familiar with the symptoms of dementia, you may think it is obvious when older people need help. But it is a complex subject – for all concerned. Families may not want to prod the tiger and older people may not want to think about it. Truth is, though, spotting problems early and planning can make a big difference in terms of outcomes. If you leave it until the last minute, when there is a crisis, it will probably be too late to make a whole range of choices. But, if you can identify a brewing storm about yourself or family members, you will still have a chance to make decisions.  Leave it much later and you could be faced with a future you really didn’t want.

So get ready to spot the warning signs.  



  • Ill health. The reddest of red signs. Even if an older person has been fit and healthy, once they are older, illness can hit them like an express train, derailing everything overnight – home, routines, family, social engagement - ability to cope/shop/cook/dress...everything. What started as a minor ailment can result in serious disability, life-changing effects and even death. Older people can die of an untreated urine infection, if they do not receive timely appropriate treatment and cannot get the doctor to take it seriously. It can be possible to track the start of a downward decline from the time an older person spends more time at the doctor’s and less time enjoying life.

  • Four funerals and no weddings. Once funerals become a regular social event for an older person, it is a sure sign of trouble. Their friends and relations have gone and, sadly, they may not be far behind - or they are on a tipping point. It may be that they had a particularly wide circle of friends or that their acquaintances were a particularly unhealthy lot. But it is advisable to take stock once you start referring to the crematorium as the Crem.  Even the hardiest, fittest older person needs to think about their options at this point.

  • Bad driving. Once an older person is a scary driver, it’s time to think about the future. They may always have been a scary driver, but if you notice little accidents or near misses, it is probably a warning sign of imminent trouble. They may not want to drive, finding it a strain, but they could be reluctant to give up the freedom it offers. Work out how much keeping the car costs each year – which could be spent on other things. But stopping driving is a life-changing decision – and potentially has far-reaching consequences. Just because someone is old, doesn’t mean they’re unsafe.

  • Shop ‘til they drop. Time was that an older person used to be able to go to the supermarket for their big shop once a week and there was no sign, aside from the healthy supplies of custard creams and cheese triangles. When shopping becomes the major event in the week, it is not a good sign. It could mean the person is struggling and/or feeling isolated. Intervening to stop someone going to the shops could be unwelcome. A trip out is a trip out after all. But it may be that help with heavy items could be offered. And/or, if family live close enough, it could become a joint expedition.   


  • Stick and stubborn.  Children, do you start every conversation by saying: ‘Have you got you hearing aid in?’ Parents, do you need a stick but refuse to use one? It is ageing – they probably know it, you know it, but no one wants to accept it. Parents are fearful and who can blame them? No one wants to be old. Such fear, of course, is another sure sign of ageing. But accepting the help of a stick or a hearing aid doesn’t make you old. Staggering about and being unable to hear does though.


  • Throwing the baby out...One of the worst aspects of ageing is having to involve other people in your everyday ablutions. Bathing, which should be a great luxury and enjoyment, can become a problem and a definite indication that significant issues are coming.  OLM's aunt was stuck in the bath for more than three hours. But she refused to have a shower fitted. That was her choice, she wanted a bath. But, difficulty carrying out everyday activities, shows a tipping point has been reached – and decisions are needed.


  • Stairway to heaven? There’s a reason why a lot of older people like living in bungalows. Stairs become a major hurdle for those approaching real old age. There are alternatives, of course, to crawling up or going down on your bottom. But trouble with stairs should light a beacon. You can get a stair lift, of course, but you should have already thought about some big decisions – where to live and how to live. It’s still not too late, probably, but by the time you get to this stage, options are starting to be limited.


  • Changing habits. If someone who has always risen at 7am and shaved every day stops bothering, it’s bound to mean trouble. Don’t be put off by claims that the person just want to spend a bit more time in bed. If an older person changes long-held habits, there is a good reason.  There’s no reason to book a place in a nursing home, but something more serious could be happening.


  • Ready meals. As a rule, older people don’t like ready meals. They are deeply suspicious of them and think they don’t taste nice which, of course, they don’t. If they start buying them, there is something wrong. Advertisements on television would have you believe that older people just love eating plastic-looking food. They don’t. It’s probably a last resort.


  • Eighty.  The magic number, the unmagical age, the point at which everyone needs to start thinking seriously about their future. However healthy they may be, however independent they are now, once people pass 80, it’s time to take stock – while they still have options. Every year after 80 can be like three. There may seem to be no reason to think about the impact of ageing, which is precisely why now is the time to do it. If you leave it any later, you may not have the choices to make.

Not good signs: Ready Meals and their last wedding invitation was before the war - any war.

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