For many people, the holidays are marked with expected seasonal stressors such as social obligations, travel hassles, holiday decorating, year-end deadlines, crowded malls, money worries and family gatherings. But despite the added pressures, many people cherish the holiday season because it represents valuable time spent celebrating with family and reconnecting with one another. For families with aging or elderly parents, the holiday get-together is often the trigger alerting the family that parents are struggling to care for themselves. In fact, “family members who don’t see parents regularly may actually be better able to recognize physical or mental decline or small changes in wellbeing, “says Judy Bellome, C.E.O. of Visiting Nurses. “This time of year families really are able to check on their aging relatives. Maybe a grandchild comes home from college to recognize grandma has lost significant weight, or an invitation to have dad over for a holiday meal reveals he is walking slower than usual,” says Bellome. When this occurs, she suggests that families look for the following:
Changes in Health
• Unexplained bruising
• Weight loss
• Difficulty walking or getting up from a seated position
• Forgetting medications or taking more pills than the prescribed dosage
Changes in Wellbeing
• Loss of interest in family, friends or favorite activities
• Missed appointments, especially important doctor visits
• Changes in mood or lack of emotional control
• Forgetfulness, confusion or frustration doing routine tasks
Changes in Appearance
• Unpleasant body odor from infrequent bathing
• Decline in grooming habits such as forgetting to comb or style hair
• Bad breath from lack of tooth brushing
• Wearing wrinkled, disheveled or dirty clothing
Changes in Household
• Spoiled food
• Laundry piling up
• Dirty dishes stacked in the kitchen sink and on counter tops
• Excessive visible debris on carpeting or flooring
• Insects or ant infestation
• Stacks of unopened mail, late payment notices or calls from bill collectors
• Strong foul smell in the home
Recognizing these deficiencies is the key to taking action. If several of these warning signs are present, experts advise families to proactively discuss the necessary steps to help keep their loved ones safe and healthy. Families might begin discussing concerns such as whether or not parents will be safe at home during the winter months, or whether they will be able to visit regularly, even in dangerous weather.
“Our Private Duty program helps seniors in their homes with non-medical needs such as laundry, housekeeping, or grocery store runs. We see a lot more need for this service during the holidays because caretakers want to make sure they have the best care possible for their parents,” says Bellome.
Robert Wilson has similar sentiments. “Bridge Haven experiences a dramatic increase in referrals and inquiries this time of year,” says Robert Wilson, executive director for an assisted living and memory care community in Lawrence. “Reaching out to help vulnerable elders before difficulties occur may prevent future falls, fractures, or seasonal illness that could mean a trip to the emergency room. Families typically discuss alternate care options when parents are no longer safe at home and would benefit from full-time care, “ says Wilson.
“With services like these, there comes a price. But there is one thing you can’t put a price on, and that is the health and safety of your loved one,” says Celia Patti whose husband recently moved into Bridge Haven assisted living. This is exactly what many families begin thinking about during the holiday season. Providing a stable and safe environment for their family members is first priority for her. “It is so important Jim is cared for in a comfortable and safe environment,” says Celia Patti.
Many families find this living environment actually enriches their time together because they are not spending time doing chores for loved ones, ” says Robert Wilson. Knowing and recognizing these four lifestyle changes is key to keeping loved ones safe and healthy, in the winter season, and all year round.