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What to Look for When Visiting Elderly Relatives This Holiday Season

What to Look for When Visiting Elderly Relatives This Holiday Season

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—one where we celebrate and spend time with family, many of whom we don’t see nearly as often as we’d like. If you’re like many people, you don’t get to see your senior loved ones regularly, so the holidays are an opportunity to visit and spend time with elderly parents and grandparents, especially if they live far away.

Did you know holiday visits are also an excellent time to assess your elderly relatives’ health and ensure they’re aging safely? As you visit loved ones at their homes or in their senior or assisted living communities, many questions may arise: Are they isolating themselves or struggling to socialize with others? If they’re living with another caregiver, is that person an appropriate caregiver, and are they meeting your loved one’s basic needs? Are there warning signs of neglect or elderly abuse?

This holiday, make the most of your visits with loved ones. Spend some private time with elderly relatives, noticing and discussing health and wellness concerns to help prevent serious accidents and complications. Catching these signs now gives both you and your loved one time to express your anxieties and needs and make plans for what to do and who can help before it’s too late.

Warning Signs of Declining Health in Seniors

The process of aging includes many changes in the body. As bones shrink and reduce in density, for example, your elderly loved one may experience some pain or stiffness. Skin loses its elasticity, causing wrinkles and making it easier to get bruises and cuts. Muscles lose their strength, flexibility, and endurance over time. And cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye, may affect vision.

These are all signs of normal aging. However, when these changes become extreme, and your loved one’s health is at risk, this is cause for concern. Significant signs of declining health include:

  • Failure to keep up with daily routines, including hygiene or washing dishes
  • Memory loss that impairs daily living, including asking the same questions over again, getting lost in familiar places, inability to follow directions, and becoming confused or agitated about time, people, and places
  • Problems that affect safety
  • Confusion while driving or changes in driving habits, especially if they’ve experienced a moving violation or an accident
  • Significant weight loss, which can indicate difficulty or lack of cooking meals, loss of taste or smell, financial troubles, or other underlying conditions like depression or cancer
  • Drastically different mood or outlook on life
  • Lack of interest in connecting with friends, maintaining hobbies and activities, and involvement in organization or communities they once were part of
  • Extreme issues of muscle weakness or joint pain that make it difficult to move or unsteady on their feet

Spotting the Signs of Alzheimer’s, Dementia & Serious Memory Loss

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, as many as 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease. And this number is expected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060. These symptoms can first appear around age 60, and the risk increases with age. The number of people living with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. If your loved one exhibits one or more of the following signs, in addition to memory problems, they may have Alzheimer’s disease, and you could consult a healthcare provider immediately. (These may be signs of other health concerns, but the only way to know is by speaking with a care provider.)

  • Memory loss like getting lost in their favorite grocery store or repeating the same questions every time they see you
  • Trouble managing money or paying bills
  • Difficulty with tasks at home or work
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them
  • Extreme changes in mood, personality, or behavior

Know the Signs of Emotional or Financial Stress

If your loved one shows signs of emotional stress, you may see these characters in them during your visit:

  • Changes in their appearance or dress
  • Problems maintaining their home
  • Confusion, disorientation, or problems with concentration
  • Decreased or increased appetite and changes in weight
  • Feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, guilt, or helplessness
  • Social withdrawal and loss of interest
  • Unexplained fatigue, energy loss, and sleep changes
  • Irritability, restlessness, or trouble sitting still
  • Moving or talking slowly
  • Frequent crying and depression

If your loved one is experiencing financial stress, look for signs such as:

  • Withdrawals from bank accounts your loved one can’t explain
  • Credit card purchases they can’t remember making
  • Unpaid bills, utilities that are shut off, or threats of eviction for not paying rent or mortgage
  • Legal documents and financial statements that have been changed or gone missing
  • Signatures that may look forged
  • Obsessive donations, especially to charities that seem fake
  • Basic necessities not being met (lack of food, clothing, or medications)

Stay Connected & Prevent Neglect or Abuse by Others

If your loved one lives with a friend or caregiver or has someone coming to visit their home to care for them, they could be at risk for neglect or elderly abuse. If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to take action.

  • Bedsores from lying in one place too long
  • Caregiver has problems with drugs, alcohol, anger, and/or emotional distress
  • Caregiver is financially dependent on your loved one
  • Confusion, depression, or abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Family pets seem neglected or abused
  • Fear of caregiver
  • Incapability of handling meal preparation, bathing, paying bills, etc.
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Personal hygiene negligence (your loved one appears dirty, dehydrated, malnourished, or over/undermedicated)
  • Recent changes in their spending or banking habits
  • Sudden presence of a “new best friend” or “confidante” offering to care for them at little or no cost
  • Obsessive amounts of mail or voicemail solicitations for money or prize giveaways
  • Unexplained bruises, cuts, or marks suggesting physical harm

What to Do & When Your Loved One Needs Help

So, what should you do if you arrive for the holidays and find your loved one’s living situation or current health management at risk?

The first step is to start a gentle conversation with your loved one to share your concerns. If they’re unable to have the discussion with you, speak to close friends, family, and caregivers. Ask your loved ones directly about their care. Are they afraid of anyone? Is their caregiver or friend taking anything from them? Do they feel threatened? Are they afraid when left alone? Do they feel safe? Are they not comfortable performing daily tasks?

Encourage regular medical checkups. Address immediate safety issues. Consider home care services, if needed. Seek help if you feel like your loved one is in immediate danger. Introduce yourself to your loved one’s neighbors and friends. Give them your contact information in case of an emergency and ask questions about what they’ve seen and experienced. You can also discuss healthcare planning, advance directives, management of chronic conditions, and caregiving needs.