3 Common Signs of Functional Decline

Everyone changes physically and mentally with age, but there are some changes that can really put a loved one’s safety at risk.  If you think that a loved one may require a transition to assisted living or elderly care, then you must first assess whether they are undergoing a true functional decline.

Functional decline is sometimes difficult to diagnose as individual symptoms often go unnoticed. Below is a list of symptoms of functional decline to be familiar with.

  • Misusing medication (over or under use and deviating from a schedule)
  • Reports of inexplicable behavior from friends, neighbors or family members
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Unpaid bills
  • Changes in spending patterns
  • inappropriate clothing
  • Stains on clothing or upholstery from urine or feces
  • Forgetting how to use simple tools
  • Poorly cared-for pets
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Difficulty in communicating
  • Confusion
  • Unfinished tasks and chores
  • Spoiled or poorly-prepared food

Studies have documented that functional decline, i.e., the loss of either complex or basic ADL functions is due to changes in one or more of six areas: physical, perceptual, cognitive, visual and hearing, falling and psychological.  Below I will describe the first three areas in more detail and I will discuss the latter three areas in the next blog post.

1. Physical Changes

It’s obvious to anyone: as the human body ages it loses physical strength, stamina, muscle coordination, and balance. Those of us who had aging grandparents or aunts and uncles saw firsthand how the natural aging process affected their abilities to perform commonplace tasks.

2. Perceptual Changes

Here we’re considering all the senses: vision, hearing, sensitivity to touch, taste – even smell. After all, each is important to overall well-being. If you can’t smell smoke, you may lose your life to a house fire; if your sense of touch is diminished by poor circulation, you may be burned by scalding water.

Many medications are responsible for changes in taste perception. When this happens, it’s easier to eat spoiled food, or even choose not to eat at all, as food no longer tastes like it used to. I have noticed that after older people are less able to use the telephone with ease. Warning alarms and buzzers may go unnoticed.

3.  Cognitive Changes

While our thinking may remain clear, the speed at which a human can process information slows considerably as we age. It’s not just the speed at which we perform tasks. It’s also our ability to multitask. Our ability to divide our attention fades as we age.

Those changes are within the range of normal and expected changes; but what of the complications of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? With dementia and Alzheimer’s loss of memory, language processing skills and inability to solve problems greatly affects your loved one’s level of independence.

Look for these warning signs:

  • Disorientation, fright or confusion when faced with a change of location, such as a doctor’s visit, visiting friends or family, or eating out at a local restaurant.
  • Giving incorrect or evasive answers when asked simple questions. For example, “What day is it?” gets the response, “What, don’t you know?”
  • Aggressive behavior or noticeable personality changes.
  • An inability to concentrate on television programs, tasks or conversations.
  • A gradual (or sudden) loss of memory.
  • Disinterest in routine tasks, such as cooking or housekeeping.
  • A decline in social skills, such as successfully engaging in conversation, or eating a meal with the correct utensil.
  • A decline in judgment skills, or inability to recognize consequences. This could manifest itself in leaving the water running, not shutting off the stove, or leaving the front door unlocked.

There are three more areas to monitor in order to determine whether a loved one is experiencing a real functional decline: hearing and vision loss, frequent falling and negative psychological changes. In the next blog post we’ll discuss symptoms within these three areas and how these problems can lead to a functional decline and loss of independence in aging individuals.

Photo Credit: Flickr user e-MagineArt.com.

  • http://twitter.com/grandcare GrandCare Systems

    This is a great article!  I am sharing a link to it with my thoughts on my blog as well as on LinkedIn. Thanks for always providing such thoughtful and insightful information :)
    Laura Mitchell
    GrandCare Systems
    blog: grandcare.wordpress.com

  • http://grandcare.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/3-common-signs-of-functional-decline-and-technology-assists/ 3 Common Signs of Functional Decline…and Technology Assists « GrandCare Systems: "Care Thee Well" ?

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  • http://eldercareabcblog.com/eldercareabc-blog-carnival-%e2%80%93-september-7-2011/ EldercareABC Blog Carnival – September 7, 2011 | Elder Care ABC

    [...] 3 Common Signs of Functional Decline — Inside Elder Care..If you think that a loved one may require a transition to assisted living or elderly care, then you must first assess whether they are undergoing a true functional decline. Read on to find out more about the signs of functional decline. [...]

  • Tsbishop

    Great article, I sheared this with my colleagues and friends!