Preparing for Holidays with Elderly Parents

Spring has sprung and the celebrations of the season are upon us.  But for many families, Passover or Easter might mark the first time visiting their elderly parents since the holidays in December.

Four months fly by when you’re in the throes of parenting and working, but for the elderly, four months can make a big difference in critical health conditions. Preparing for holidays with elderly parents means that you'll make the most of your visit by taking time to check-in with your parents' health and well-being. Look out for the following warning signs that may indicate that your parents need additional medical or in-home care.

 Weight loss

Although we frequently hear about the health issues associated with weight gain, significant weight loss is also worth noting. Weight loss is often an early sign of both physical and mental ill health - with causes ranging from cancer and depression, to more manageable causes such as a lack of energy to cook, or malnutrition in diet.

If you notice significant weight loss in your loved one, ask to have an open conversation about the cause. The solution could be as easy as finding an in-home aide to prepare food a few days a week, or it could be an early sign of illness that warrants a visit to a doctor.

 Stacks of mail

Take a quick glance through your parents’ mail to see what’s in there. Look out for unopened bills, excessive thank you notes from charities, and any junk mail or suspicious-looking solicitations. Unopened bills could indicate financial trouble or forgetfulness, while a large stack of thank you notes could be a sign that your loved one is falling prey to false charities.

Unfortunately, mail-in solicitations from phony charities tend to target seniors, but directly calling the agency that sent the letter can help get your parents’ names off the mailing list. Also directly help your parents manage bill payments by setting up automatic or online bill pay, or consider hiring a bookkeeper or professional in-home care aide to help organize and pay, if you or your parents don’t like the idea of making payments over the internet.

 Ease of movement

Pay attention to the way that your parents walk. Do they shuffle their feet more than usual? Stoop over when they walk? Frequently hold onto nearby surfaces? Changes in movement can have physical causes like arthritis and disc degeneration, or they could be early signs of neurological changes like neuropathy, Parkinson’s, or dementia. Ask your parents if they are feeling pain or discomfort while moving, and work from there to decide if a visit to the doctor is in order.

 Be sure to notice changes in balance, as well. Although it is typical to lose balancing ability with age, preventing falls should be a priority, as topples can lead to much more serious conditions and are generally preventable with the use of canes and walkers.

 State of the house

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what does a cluttered house signify? Often, an aging mind. Take a look around your parents’ home to gauge the general level of cleanliness. Do stacks of newspaper resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Is the fridge full of moldy foods, or the laundry basket overflowing? These could be signs that your parents need someone to come into their home a few days a week to help with daily upkeep, as the physical movements and mental organization required in so many household tasks can become difficult to perform. But beware, a cluttered house could also indicate more serious conditions liek dementia or depression, especially if paired with declining personal hygiene, increased irritability, or decreased social engagement.

Spend extra time in the medicine cabinet making sure that no expired medications are lying around, and make sure that your parents are taking their proper medications every day. If you notice discrepancies, write the name of medication and instructions for taking it in big letters on a piece of masking tape on the lid and bottle or set your parents up with a pill organizer. This could also be a sign that it’s time to have an in-home aid to make sure daily medical needs are being met.

Driving ability

Over the holidays, ask your parents to drive you to the grocery store to assess their driving ability. Declining sight, slowed reaction times, and increased forgetfulness could create unsafe driving conditions. Check if they remember to put on a seat belt, properly follow road signs and driving protocol, and stay alert behind the wheel.

If your parents rely on driving to support their daily needs, this is a good test to determine if they are able to remain independent, or if they need a caregiver to help with driving and transportation.

 Next steps

It can be difficult to determine when your parents need care. If you have any concerns about your parents during a holiday visit, first have an open discussion with them about your thoughts. After the initial conversation, start gathering resources and brainstorming an action plan. Start to compile a to-do list of tasks you can complete over a series of future visits; gather important health, financial, and legal documents; and find out about assistance programs that may be available through existing community resources or insurance plans.

However, try not to feel pressured to have everything in place by the time you leave. First and foremost, remember to enjoy your holiday and precious time together with your family.

 If your loved one needs help taking care of daily tasks, consider bringing a qualified care provider into your home. American In-Home Care always refers qualified, screened, and insured care providers that are compassionate and ready to help. Contact us at 1-844-505-0004 to schedule your free in-home consultation to discuss which care options are right for you and your family.

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