Visiting Elderly Family at the Holidays
When families live far away from one another, the holidays may be the only opportunity that certain family members have to personally observe older relatives. Older people can decline quickly. Family members who haven’t seen their aging loved one in a while may be shocked at what they see: a formerly healthy father looking alarmingly frail or a mother whose home was once well-kept now in disorder.
Absence – even for a short period – often allows us to observe a situation through new eyes…and the following changes may indicate the need to take action to ensure your aging relatives’ safety and good health.
Here are a few signs to pay attention to:
One sign of ill health, either physical or mental, is loss of weight. The cause could be physical or it could be related to a lack of energy. Often, it’s hard to plan meals for one person. Certain meds and aging in general can alter the way food tastes. If weight loss is apparent, talk to your loved one about your concern and schedule a doctor’s visit to address the issue.
Pay close attention to the way your parent moves, and in particular how they walk. Often difficulty in walking can be an indication of joint or muscle problems or more serious difficulties.
Take notice of changes in how your loved one is getting along. Are they having a hard time? You can’t always measure a person’s happiness over the telephone, even if you speak daily. Pay attention if they are suddenly become more isolated, or if they stop taking care of their home or themselves.
Attention must also be paid to your parent’s home environment. For instance, your parent may have always been a nit-picker for neatness or for paying bills promptly. If you discover excess disorder and unopened mail, a problem may exist. Also, keep an eye out for less obvious indications for concern. Burnt pots, for example, could be a sign that your parent is not paying attention to cooking. Is the hamper overflowing? Ask them if they need help with
the laundry. Check medication bottles for expiration dates; and make note of all prescriptions your parent takes and place that information in your personal files as well as in their wallet in case of an emergency.
There may be other areas of concern, specific to your family member. Have a conversation with your parent. Should this year’s holiday visit open your eyes to current and potential problems or negative changes in your parent’s physical or emotional state, then it’s time to put a plan of action in place.