The holiday season is upon us, which means among the extra shopping trips and company parties, there are plenty of extra reasons to connect with family members, young and old. Extra family get-togethers often mean a bit of extra emotion. You may be feeling concerned as this year’s holiday celebrations roll around; your aging parent may be living with extra medical conditions this year, or you may be wondering if there are some memory issues at play as well.
Fortunately, the holidays offer time to celebrate old traditions while looking toward the future.
As you are packing up the suitcase and loading up the car, don’t forget to take advantage of your time at your mom’s or dad’s home. Spend extra time in the morning lingering over a second cup of coffee or flipping through a treasured photo album beside twinkling lights from the tree. Cook favorite family meals and spend lots of time chatting with your dad. You are, after all, getting an inside look into his home and his daily routine.
This vantage point can give you an inside look into if your loved one is managing any current health conditions or concerns, as well as giving you a head start to addressing any possible challenges or needs.
While you may shy away from thinking about senior care or senior assistance that your parent may need during such a happy and festive time of year, you are actually in the perfect spot to start the process. Being with your mom at home during the holiday season can give you an ideal chance to assess her current challenges and living situation, as well as bring up your concerns in a non-confrontational way to your parent and other trusted family members.
You may be wondering if senior care could be right for your aging loved one, but you just aren’t sure. While every senior is different and unique, there are a few warning signs that may point to a follow-up meeting with you parent’s geriatrician or even an assessment with a senior care community. Here are just a few things you may want to look for in between your family’s celebrations in order to assess your parent’s health, safety, socialization and memory.
Your parent’s safety is a paramount concern, especially if he or she is currently living alone and without assistance. Safety can include a variety of factors ranging from environmental concerns to physical and cognitive abilities. Here are a few things that may be some cause for concern:
A home with many stairs, flooring changes (carpet to hardwood, etc.) or necessary rooms on multiple levels
Your parent’s inability to successfully navigate through the home with a walker, cane or other mobility device
Many rugs or a crowded floor plan (this can lead to falls or stumbles)
A bathtub or shower without assistive devices such as a shower chair or grab bars
Your parent’s inability to transfer confidently and safely from chair to toilet or toilet to tub
Decreased strength and endurance as evidenced by inability to stand up from the seated position
Emergency systems are not in place to get help when needed (cell phone nearby, emergency pendant call system, etc.)
Living alone and without helpful neighbors nearby
Refrigerator and pantry cabinets without healthy, fresh and ready-to-prepare food
An inaccessible mailbox
Snowy, icy and neglected sidewalks, front stairs, pathways or porch
When it comes to evaluating your parent’s health, you need only sharpen your observation for how he or she is feeling and managing any chronic conditions.
Possible warning signs may include:
Inability to manage his or her own prescription medications or schedule (Is he or she checking his or her insulin levels consistently as per instruction? Does he or she have a designated place to keep his or her medications? Is he or she taking the correct dose?)
Becoming more winded or fatigued than usual
Taking more rest breaks, especially during longer periods of activity or commotion
Appearing to be in pain throughout the day
Choosing to skip favorite family celebrations or traditions due to not feeling well, feeling tired or being in pain
Finally, seniors who may be experiencing the early stages of dementia will spend most of their time with family masking any forgetfulness that they may have. Look for other clues that could indicate a memory or judgment issue:
Spoiled food in the refrigerator or pantry
Inability to button his or her own shirt
Stacks of mail or other papers throughout the home
Unpaid bills or missing checks
Reminder notes hidden throughout the home
Tasks that are completed only halfway (a sink full of dirty and clean dishes, laundry separated but not washed, etc.)
Personality changes that include angry outbursts or sudden sadness
Wearing clothes or accessories that are inappropriate for the season, weather or occasion
If you notice one or several warning signs, take a deep breath. Resist the urge to confront your parent with your concerns right away. Instead, take a few more hours or days together to approach the situation in a helpful manner. You may even consider talking about your concerns with other family members who are in town for the holidays as well. Your instinct is often right; if you feel like your dad is not safe or healthy, or just isn’t acting like him- or herself, a follow-up conversation with your dad and his geriatrician is certainly warranted.