The Holidays give a special opportunity to check in on the seniors in your life – and make sure that everything is going well.
When you’re visiting mom or dad, or Great Aunt Agnes there are some things to look for to do a senior welfare check during the holiday season to verify they’re safe and still up to taking care of themselves.
1. Has their personal appearance changed?
You’re looking for any changes out of the norm that can indicate they’re struggling to take care of themselves. If mom wouldn’t dream of wearing a shirt with a stain, but you see her in a shirt with three days of dinner gracing the front, that’s an indication that something is amiss. Or if dad shaved every day no matter what and he’s suddenly sporting a week-old beard… this could be a red flag.
2. Is the house showing signs of neglect?
Going “home” for the holidays is always emotionally challenging. But if that home suddenly doesn’t feel like home because standards that you’d taken for granted – like dishes being done after every meal, newspapers thrown out weekly, or the trash taken to the curb every garbage day – aren’t happening, this is an indication that something’s wrong. This can also be seen if parents are leaving normal chores undone. Are counters clean or sticky? Do you see cobwebs and thick dust everywhere? (They get a pass on cleaning gutters or chopping wood!)
3. Are they exhibiting coping behaviors to hide memory loss?
For early signs of dementia, you’re also looking for an inability to carry on a conversation beyond “small” talk. Remember that your family member will be good at covering signs of dementia! But if you ask an “if, then, else” type of question, you can see if they’re getting confused.
A couple good questions to ask are:
- If we go shopping, we could buy something for supper, otherwise we could eat out. What do you think?
- If you want to visit Aunt Agnes, then we could go tomorrow, or else we could go Thursday.
- If we watch the Christmas parade, then we’ll miss the concert, or we could go look at the lights at the park instead. Do you have a preference?
It can be a bit harder to determine if Great Aunt Agnes is struggling if you’re not visiting her at home – but encountering her at a big family gathering. Here, you’ll be looking for personal grooming and dressing – does she look as pulled together as normal? Is her hair clean? Do her clothes and body smell like she’s doing regular laundry, putting on clean clothes, and bathing regularly?
And in the general sense – you’re looking to make sure that the home is being cared for, messes being cleaned up, housekeeping is being done regularly, and that they’re able to bathe and use the toilet by themselves. A great test is the sniff test. How does the house smell? How does your family member smell? Gross, I know, but easy to do and you can do it subtly so you’re not offending anybody.
So what do you do if you’re seeing a red flag?
Deep breath – you’ve got some actions to take. Keep in mind that you’re acting out of love and concern, not malice.
You’ll need to open a dialog with your family member – and maybe enlist the help of a trusted family friend or friend of that family member.
You can tell them what you’ve noticed – gently and lovingly – and then ask your mom, dad, or Great Aunt Agnes what they’ve noticed.
Maybe the answer will surprise you!
Remember that signs of struggle don’t always mean dementia. Your family member could be suffering from a mobility issue, like arthritis, that makes things harder. And all they need is a little extra help – and a friendly weekly visit! Sometimes it’s as simple as an assistive device you can buy from Amazon.com like a stool for in the shower or a reach & grab device.
Or maybe they aren’t seeing as well and need new glasses or cataract surgery.
The reasons can vary so don’t jump to conclusions.
You’ll want to create a plan, with the family member, to have them age in place – getting the care and support they want. A great resource is Aging Life Care Professionals – you can find them at www.AgingLifeCare.org An Aging Life Care Professional can help create and implement a plan, and be a local point of contact if you live at a distance.
And if your family member doesn’t have their end of life documents in place including a Will, Health Care Proxy, and Power of Attorney, now is the moment to help them get it done. They need to be done before you need them. Get more tips on how to get this done by downloading our FREE guide, Finally Get Your Will Done!