For those who live far from their parents, the holidays are often a happy time of family reunions and catching up. But as loved ones age, it can also be a time of unpleasant surprises for those who discover that their aging loved one is showing signs of decline.
“Aging adults who are facing new limitations often try to avoid drawing attention to themselves,” said Gene Lennon, owner of Right at Home Santa Clara County. “It’s not uncommon for an out-of-town relative to be unaware of the changes their loved ones are facing. Holiday family gatherings can be a good time to assess how your loved one is doing.”
Right at Home provides in-home companionship, personal care and assistance to seniors and disabled adults who want to live independently.
But even if a loved one is experiencing new changes or challenges with age, are the changes serious? Following are Lennon’s key signs to determine if a loved one may benefit from in-home assistance.
• Make sure that seniors are continuing to look after their personal appearance and hygiene as well as they used to. Warning signs could include wearing the same clothes over and over or neglecting to brush their teeth. If seniors are taking medications, observe to make sure that they remember when to take them, and know what each is for. If they are not eating properly, they may be losing weight.
• Look for signs of neglect in the house. If the home looks as if it is not receiving its usual care, it could be that regular, simple maintenance chores such as dusting are not being performed. Keep an eye out for piles of unpaid – or even unopened – bills. Avoiding household tasks could be a sign that once manageable chores have become overwhelming. Keep a lookout for burned pots and pans, as well as food that is moldy or past its expiration date.
• Additional signs could include that your loved one is not taking proper care of a pet, is avoiding stairs or having difficulty with them or has limited contact with the outside world.
If you see such signs in an elder relative or friend, it may be time to speak up, according to Lennon. You may not want to broach the subject during the holidays, but don’t wait too long, he said.
“Planning for a loved one’s future needs as they age can be difficult and emotional for everyone involved,” Lennon said. “But it’s an important conversation to have to ensure those you care about get the help and care they need in the way they want it. The earlier you start the conversation, the easier transitions will be when they’re needed.”
Lennon suggests preparing what you want to say to seniors beforehand, focusing on “I” statements that express your concern to help them maintain their desired life as they age. Bring other family members into the discussion during the early stages so that everyone is on the same page, he said, adding that this can spare you and your loved ones much discord later.
If you expect it to be a difficult conversation, Lennon said that some experts recommend introducing the topic briefly and then agreeing on a later time to discuss it in more detail after everyone has had time to reflect. Another option to consider is bringing in a mediator or geriatric consultant to weigh in and keep the conversation peaceful, he said.
There are many options available for seniors in need of assistance. Sometimes, the assistance of a family or friend caregiver is enough. Other times, this is not practical, particularly if family members live too far away or are already overcommitted.
Other single-service care options can help to supplement or address a specific need, such as a meal delivery service or an adult day care, according to Lennon. If more comprehensive care is needed, then an assisted-living facility or nursing home may be in order or, if your loved one wishes to stay at home, an in-home care service such as Right at Home, he said.
“Ultimately, no single isolated sign necessarily means your loved one is in trouble,” Lennon said. “After spending time with your loved one, take a gut check. Sometimes you can feel a change in a person even if you can’t articulate it. Trust yourself. And in the meantime, enjoy your time together and celebrate.”