The holidays are a time for getting together with family scattered across the globe, renewing friendships, taking in the sights and sounds of the holidays … and checking in on aging family members to see how well they are managing.
Its no coincidence that the busiest time for elder care options spikes around the holidays. That’s when relatives pick up on little details that let them know trouble is unfolding right before their eyes.
While its never easy to admit a relative is failing, it is important to recognize the first signs of trouble, and take action immediately to prevent further problems down the road. Here are a few things you can do.
Start With A Hug
What’s the first thing you do when you see loved ones for the first time in months? Give them a big hug. While you are hugging your parents or elderly relatives, use this as your first clue.
- Do you notice obvious weight loss? This can be a sign that they aren’t eating right, or are facing anything from depression to a disease like cancer.
- Can you notice increased frailty? As strength weakens, its also an indication of how well they can manage on their own. Are they more at risk for tripping and falling?
- Do you notice obvious weight gain? This could indicate they’ve changed their eating patterns – they eat more junk food and not enough fresh foods. Or it could be a sign of dementia; they may not remember eating, and therefore eat all the time.
- Strange body odor. Grooming habits can be a sign of memory trouble. If bathing and personal grooming becomes a chore, it may be one of the first things they “forget” to do.
Notice The Piles Of Mail
Many seniors begin living by the pile method, choosing to put mail, newspapers and other daily items into piles that they will check later. The trouble is, “later” rarely happens before several piles are in place. Take the time to go through the piles and look for telltale signs of trouble. Are there unopened bills? Are there unopened personal notes from family or friends? Are there letters from banks or creditors? Are there thank you notes from charities? Seniors are especially susceptible to scammers. A variety of thank you notes could be an indication they are sending money to the wrong places. Unopened bills or statements, or notes from a creditor could be an indication they are forgetting the important things in life. Notice patterns and don’t be afraid to discuss issues with your parents. It can open up the conversation to educating them about safety.
Take A Drive
When everyone piles into the car to head out holiday shopping, or for a dinner away from home, let mom or dad get behind the wheel instead of you. This is the best way to determine if they are still driving safely. Take a quick glance around for dents, dings and nicks. Then notice if they put on safety belts, and how well they perform routine tasks, such as getting out of the garage or pulling into a parking space. You can also see how well they are monitoring their cars – are dashboard warning lights on?
Inspect The Kitchen
Check the pantry and the refrigerator to see if your loved one is using things or throwing them away in a timely manner. If you notice multiple items – several cartons of eggs, for instance – with many of them pushed to the back of the refrigerator, it could be a sign of memory issues. You can also look at pots and pans, or potholders with burnt edges, all of which can be a signal of a kitchen fire. Accidents happen, but if you notice more than one problem – several burnt potholders – it could be a sign of a repetitive problem.
Walk around the house both inside and out. This is one of the easiest ways to tell where problems lie. Do you notice plants are dying or are dead? Is clutter piling up in unused bedrooms? Are there spills that haven’t been cleaned in months? Is there clutter and grime in the bathroom? Do cobwebs hang from the corners? The more trouble you see, the more potential problems your loved one may be having.
If you have any doubts, take action. While your loved one probably won’t admit to having problems, you can ask those around them. Do they have a neighbor they spend time with? An old family friend who lives close by? Ask them about the details and find out if they’ve noticed anything unusual. If you start hearing “I haven’t seen her much lately”, it’s a sign of a problem that needs further investigating.
Whether you are a few miles or a few hundred miles away from your loved one throughout the year, your first course of action is make sure your loved one is safe and secure. You don’t have to move them into assisted living; most people do better knowing they are safe and at home. With a little help from an in home care specialist, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing your loved one is safe.