The holiday season brings families back together to reunite, catch up, and recognize the need for assistance for older adults. Many adult children who live farther away from their parents or older relatives are not aware of possibilities of deteriorating personalities and physical functions. Some adult children don't realize what is happening, and by the time they visit, it could be too late. It is crucial to come together this holiday season, in whatever format, to observe, identify if there is an issue, and have the talk to ensure your older parents or relatives will be taken care of.
Visiting family during the holidays would normally offer many visual cues that your loved one needs more help. Clues including:
- Expired foods in the refrigerator
- Piles of laundry
- Messier-than-normal home
- Changes in appearance such as uncombed hair, bruises, or scrapes
- Balance and movement
- Neglected hygiene
- Neglected home
- Unopened mail, newspaper piles, missed appointments
- Mishandled finances such as losing money, overpaying bills twice, or hiding money
- New behaviors including acting loud, quiet, paranoid, or making phone calls at all hours
This year, you may be opting to skip large gatherings, or traveling to see your family at all, to keep yourself and your loved ones safe amid the COVID pandemic. Instead, families might choose to catch up virtually through Zoom or Skype, or you might call to say Happy Thanksgiving. This is still a valuable time to check in on your parent’s health and safety. We know it might be hard to start these conversations, so we’ve developed a list of questions you can ask and things you can look out for, even if you aren’t celebrating in person together.
Ask “Hey mom, how are your friends doing? Are you staying in touch with them?”
- Asking your parents about their friends is a great way to gauge whether they are still maintaining their social activities despite many events and community activities, like church groups or book clubs, being transitioned from in-person to virtual events. If your mom or dad aren’t keeping up with their friends like they normally do, encourage them to reach out and help them explore ways to stay connected through virtual meetings or by phone.
If you meet virtually, look for changes in appearance, such as uncombed hair, unbrushed teeth, or bruises and scrapes on the skin.
- If your parents are typically well-dressed and groomed, but don’t seem as put together as they typically do, this could indicate that they are beginning to lack awareness about their personal hygiene. If they also seem more forgetful, this could indicate that their memory is worsening, and they may need to see a doctor. Oftentimes, they may just need a gentle reminder from a caregiver that it’s time to get ready for the day, and maybe a helping hand taking care of themselves. If you notice bruises and scrapes, they may need additional help getting around their home.
Ask “Hey dad, have you tried any new recipes lately? I know you and mom love using the crockpot when it gets cold!”
- If you notice changes in your family’s appearance (like weight loss or sudden weight gain), ask them about what they’ve been eating. Talking about things they normally like to make is a great way to break the ice and understand what their diet is like. If they’ve lost weight unexpectedly, they may not be getting the nutrition they need, and could use some help with meal preparation. If you notice a sudden weight gain, ask about the salt in their diet. They could be retaining fluid if they are eating too much sodium and might need to see a doctor to rule out any health issues.
Listen for changes in personality, especially later in the day.
- When speaking with your parents or loved ones, do they speak more softly or more loudly than they normally do? Are they speaking or acting in ways that are unusual for their personality? Social isolation is not easy for anyone, but it can be especially damaging to seniors. Developing depression, or memory issues, can both cause changes in personality, and both can be exacerbated by increased time alone.
If you notice that your parents or loved ones are isolating more from friends, not taking care of themselves, or need help getting around or making nutritious food, hiring a caregiver to assist with these things can give you some increased peace of mind, and also improve health outcomes for your family! You can even set specific care plan tasks for the caregiver based on the things you know they need help with the most.
To learn more about how a caregiver can help you and your loved one, Click here.