The holidays allow family members of all generations to see how one another is doing and whether anyone may need help or encouragement during this time.
If you are visiting a parent or senior loved one over the holidays, you can also use your visit as an opportunity to assess their well-being.
- Emotional State
Keep an eye out for changes in your loved one’s moods and behavior. You can’t always gauge someone’s emotional state over the telephone, even if you speak to them every day. Look for signs of depression and anxiety, including withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in hobbies, and changes in basic home maintenance and personal hygiene. The latter can be an indicator of dementia or other physical ailments like dehydration, which often happens to elders in the winter months and can be serious. If you notice sudden odd behavior in your loved one, such as confusion or agitation, be sure to seek medical attention. These are common symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI), which is prevalent in seniors and easily resolved with antibiotics.
- Weight Loss
One of the most obvious signs of bad health, both physical and mental, is weight loss. Possible causes of noticeable weight loss could be cancer, depression, or dementia. Certain medications and aging, in general, can also change the way food tastes and/or result in a loss of appetite. If weight loss is evident, talk to your loved one about your concerns and schedule a doctor’s appointment to address the issue.
- Balance and Mobility
Pay close attention to the way your loved one moves and how they walk. A reluctance to walk, changes in gait, or obvious pain during movement can be a sign of joint, muscle, or neurological problems. If your loved one is unsteady on their feet, they may be at risk of falling, which can cause severe injury or worse. If you notice changes in their mobility and coordination, make an appointment with their doctor to discuss options to keep them safe and mobile, such as pain management, physical therapy, and mobility aids.
- Home Environment
Attention must also be paid to a senior’s surroundings. For instance, if your loved one has always been a stickler for neatness and paying bills promptly, but you discover excess clutter and piles of unopened mail while visiting, it indicates a problem. Take a walk-through of their home while you’re visiting to see if they are keeping their house to the usual standards. Be aware that sometimes the signs of trouble are a bit subtler. Scorched cookware could indicate that your loved one forgets food on the stove or in the oven, and an overflowing hamper could mean they don’t have the strength and/or desire to do laundry. Check the expiration dates on their medications and try to determine if they’re taking any prescribed medications appropriately. You know your loved one and their habits best, so go with your gut if something seems off.
- Appearance and Hygiene
Are they keeping up their appearance? Or do they look like they need to be taken care of? Do they dress appropriately for the weather and occasion and take care of their hygiene? If not, it may be a good idea to hire a caregiver.
Are you aware of all the medications prescribed to them? Check if they are taking all their medication regularly. Also, make sure that the medicines have not expired. This is crucial to their health.
- Mental Health
Do they experience mood swings, forgetfulness, loneliness, depression, and difficulty maintaining friends? Are they generally less interested in life than before? They might need professional help if they show signs of mental decline. It could also be an indication of the beginning of a disease like dementia.
While you may want to keep things light during the holiday season, take this opportunity to address any red flags that you observe. Unfortunately, the age-related decline can happen quickly, and in many cases, seniors are skilled at concealing new and worsening problems. Collect any necessary information while you are visiting to avoid added frustration in the event of a crisis down the road.