The holidays are a time of giving and gathering as families travel across the country to be “home for Christmas” as the old carol goes. However, many adult children may find that all is not calm and bright for their aging loved ones. Especially as families are more and more spread out, time can surprise us with changes in the behavior and home environment of our loved ones. A trip home may leave us reeling with questions. “Should mom really be going up and down those basement stairs with the laundry? Can dad drive safely in the winter? Are they managing their medications okay? Should I be worried about dad’s memory?”
As the experts in elder care, we know how scary it can be to take an honest look at the needs and concerns of aging parents. Below is a short guide to going home for the holidays that will help you keep a compassionate eye out for risks and noteworthy changes. As you assess how mom and dad are doing there are three broad questions to come back to: 1. Is my loved one safe and will they be safe in the foreseeable future? 2. Does he/she experience a good quality of life now? 3. Who is paying attention and watching for changes and what would trigger help if it was needed?
Changes in Behavior
As we are interacting with family, changes in behavior can be an important red flag to pay attention to. Stress, increased activity, and changes in diet can certainly impact individuals around the holidays so look for changes in longstanding personality traits and regular patterns of behavior. Some things you might look for are:
- Changes in dressing/ Are they wearing clothing appropriate for the season?
- Changes in driving habits/ Are they slow to react or unable to see signs well?
- Changes in engagement with community and family/ Are they more withdrawn?
- Repeated questions/ Are they unable to retain information?
- Changes in walking or balance/ Do they hang on to items to help steady them or are they favoring one side as they walk?
- Changes in personal hygiene or grooming/ Are they avoiding showering or shaving or other parts of their routine?
- Is your loved one going to regular appointments for vision, dental, hearing, and other medical care? Are there untreated medical conditions?
- Changes in communication/ Are they having difficulty finding words for things or people?
- Changes in alcohol consumption/ Are they relying on substances for sleep, mood regulation, etc.?
Changes in Environment
Changes in the environment of a loved one can be just as important to recognize as changes in the person. They can be a red flag for changes in condition, but they can also increase safety and health risks. Some things you might look for are:
- Expired food in pantry or fridge/ Are their eating habits changing?
- Inconsistency in medication regimen/ Are they taking their meds and properly executing changes from the doctor?
- Condition of interior/exterior of home/ Are there major repairs that are neglected?
- Accessibility/ Are bathrooms, stairwells, and kitchen spaces easily accessible and safe to use? Are they functional and safe for the foreseeable future?
- Is there a plan for an emergency? / Are there contacts nearby who could assist?
- Grief and depression/ Has your loved one experienced significant losses of friends or other loved ones?
- Compulsive hoarding/ Are they showing hoarding behavior and unable to get rid of items? Does the home have an unsafe amount of clutter?
It is not uncommon for aging adults to minimize or hide changes in health to protect their dignity and autonomy. Aging parents have faced many life challenges without the help of their children and it can be difficult to involve adult children in finding solutions in care. In many circumstances, it is a medical event or crisis that forces the hard conversations about how to age well, long-term care, and safety. At the heart of the dialogue is the quality of life and well-being of the ones we love.
Where to Take Your Concerns
If you are noticing some of these changes in behavior or environment, you may have more concerns than answers. As RNs and MSWs, Geriatric Care Managers offer families a great starting point in the eldercare conversation. They are able to consult with families to plan for the future, address and manage developing care needs, and be an advocate in the healthcare maze. As an expert outside of the family dynamics they can also provide an unbiased assessment of care needs and help families make important decisions that are right for them. Give us a call today and start getting the expertise and guidance for the road ahead. 800.628.7649.
Published on December 3, 2014.