The holidays are a time when families and friends, who come from both far and near, have a chance to gather and reconnect.  This can mean visiting with a loved one that you may have not seen for an extended period of time.  Age-related decline can happen quickly and, in many cases, seniors are skilled at concealing new and worsening problems.  These holiday visits can often provide an opportunity to observe your loved one closely and look for signs of changes or decline.

Here are some things to watch for the next time you visit:

Physical Appearance: Is your loved one clean and presentable? Not keeping up with daily routines could be a result of physical, mental, or emotional decline. Do you notice any weight loss? Cooking may have become difficult. Also, some medications can affect taste and cause a lack of appetite.

Changes in Balance Mobility:  Pay attention to how your loved one walks. Is balance or gait a problem? If they are unsteady on their feet, they may be at a higher risk for falls which can result in serious injury.

Home Environment: If your loved one has always maintained the yard, home repairs, a clean house and paid bills on time, a neglected yard or repairs, a cluttered or dirty house, or stack of unpaid bills could be clues that things are not quite right. Is your loved one able to handle their medications? Should they be driving?

Memory Loss: Everyone loses their keys or forgets things occasionally. But having trouble with common words, getting lost in a familiar neighborhood, or not being able to follow directions could be indications of something serious. Be aware, though, it’s not always dementia—a urinary tract infection that can be cured with antibiotics, other medical issue, or even a medication can often present with memory loss or confusion.

Emotional Well-Being: Watch for signs of depression, including withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, or loss of interest in hobbies.

What can you do?

  1. If you see things that concern you, talk to your loved one. Have an honest conversation about what you are noticing and see if they are aware of any changes. Remember to balance respect of their right to privacy with your concerns about their well-being.
  2. Encourage regular medical check-ups and possibly a medical assessment. You may want to go with your loved one and discuss results and suggestions with the doctor.
  3. Address any safety issues and prioritize a to-do list. Simple things like adding non-slip pads under rugs or installing handicap bars in a bathroom can prevent falls. Medic alert systems are also valuable.
  4. Identify all available resources. (Also see #6 below.) Maybe you need to hire a housekeeper, someone to run errands, or a home health aide.
  5. If you have siblings, involve them if possible.
  6. Make a list of medications, doctors, and medical issues.
  7. Make sure your loved one has all appropriate legal documents, including financial and healthcare powers of attorney and estate planning documents. An Elder Law attorney can be a valuable resource because they have walked this road before with other families, and can help with securing benefits from the VA and Medicaid, if applicable.

Above all, you want your loved one to have as much independence and participation as possible. Be reassuring in what can be a scary time for many people. Remind them that you care about them and want them to be happy, healthy and safe—now and as far into the future as possible.

At Generations Law Group, our staff is committed to helping families navigate the intimidating, sometimes consuming maze of long-term care.  Please contact us, 978-263-0006, if you would like to discuss your situation.