Many elderly are able to mask declining health throughout the year because they are able to keep a fairly steady routine. During the holidays, when schedules are more erratic, family caregivers may be able to detect signs of physical and mental decline in their aging loved ones. Knowing what to look for is crucial.
Physical changes including balance issues, decreased strength as well as lack of attention to personal hygiene and appearance can be a sign that there is a potential problem.
- When you pick them up or dropping them off take note of their home: is it unusually disorganized or unclean?
- Are they having trouble getting in and out of the car or chairs at a relative’s home?
- Are they unsteady when having to go up or down stairs?
- Are they dressing in more casual clothes than they would have in past years, wearing items that are easier to put on such as sweat-clothes or seasonally inappropriate clothing?
- Do their clothes have stains on them or an odor as if worn numerous times and not washed?
- Is their hair unkempt, especially women who would usually have their hair done for special occasions?
- Is there a change in their physical odor due to lack of attention to their personal hygiene?
Mental changes including lack of usual interpersonal skills or inappropriate responses to questions, as well as uncharacteristic silence can be a sign that something has changed.
- When driving them to or from a holiday gathering were they ready when you arrived?
- Did they seem agitated or distracted?
- Are they struggling to keep up with conversation or staying quiet when they would normally share their opinion or insight?
- Are they able to appropriately answer direct questions?
- Are they unable to make simple decisions or asking others to make decisions for them?
- Do they become easily agitated over seemingly small issues or challenges?
- Are they able to appropriately name or identify family and friends?
Other pro-active observations:
- Look in the refrigerator to make sure they have a sufficient amount of groceries as well as look for potentially expired items.
- Check prescription bottles to see if they have been refilled, note if they were all filled at the same or multiple pharmacies.
You’ve identified some areas of change – now what?
- Talk to your family member about scheduling an appointment with their physician and tell them you want to go along. If you are met with resistance be firm but loving in your desire to accompany them.
- In preparation for the appointment, make a list of all medications taken by your loved one and research the potential side effects, as well as consult with a pharmacist about possible interactions.
- Sit down ahead of time with your loved one and create a written list of questions for the doctor and bring the list with to the appointment.
- Make sure all of your questions are answered during the appointment.
Be an advocate for your aging loved ones by being pro-actively aware of changes and assisting them in finding resources that can assist them in maintaining an optimal level of independence.
Great Article! You’re correct, the holidays are really a great time to observe changes in your parents. It’s important not to lose sight of the subtle changes year round as well.
May I add the following?
1. Even the slightest change in eyesight health over the previous year may bring on or make worse a case of Season Affective Disorder, if applicable to your loved one. The shorter days and colder weather, which may bring otherwise active elders indoors more, cutting down on sunlight that provides essential nutrients too.
2. Considering the increased time indoors, it may be a good idea to evaluate the cleaning supplies being used, to make sure that chemical sensitivities do not cause issues, with the windows closed up for three months in some cases.
3. If there is a noticeable change in regards to sadness or fatigue which may be related to these seasonal events, high anti-oxidant level foods can help, if the diet allows for it. Examples include dark berries which balance secretions of the brain that help with moods, decrease stress, lower LDL’s and more. These secretions include serotonin, melatonin, dopamine and norpenephrine. The second one, when in balance, helps us sleep.
4. Related to sleep, research shows that senior citizens need less sleep than they did earlier in life. Add this fact to the same amount of waking hours, but less sunlight,and you can see the problems that may occur for some, especially for those who are alone much of the time.
Addendum to Sue’s readers:
Each entry allows you to make a decision about affirmative proactive action. Choosing to do nothing with the information received may not be proactive, but it is still a an action. Where your loved ones are concerned, choose wisely. They are the source of seeds sown that come back to be your harvest later on.