Be Watchful Of Your Aging Relatives Over The Holidays.
Holiday celebrations are right around the corner. Many families will gather together with parents and grandparents. It is important to be alert to noticeable changes in your elderly relative’s behavior. It’s not always an easy conversation to have with family, but sometimes it is necessary as these changes may reveal health needs or challenges that require intervention to help keep those loved ones around longer. The Holidays are a great time to be on the lookout for serious physical, mental and health changes in your loved ones.
Some things to keep in mind:
Personality Changes: As our loved ones age, we need to be mindful of changes in personality that could potentially reflect a larger problem. It could be physical limitations as they age, but it could also be mental. Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s carry some very drastic and difficult side effects and consequences. The holidays are perfect times to check in with family and make sure that as they age, they are still functioning and able to care for themselves adequately. Some common signs are being more anxious than normal, depressed and always down, or having a harder time remembering. Sometimes it’s as simple as a hearing problem, and once fixed they are their happy selves again. But other times it can be early signs of a bigger problem, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, and getting a head of the disease is necessary. Early planning for these diseases is also helpful, both to the other spouse who will be the caretaker, as well as the rest of the family and the remaining estate assets. If a diagnosis is made, consulting with an elder attorney is necessary as soon as possible.
Money Problems: A touchy subject money, but a necessary conversation if things appear off. Look for signs that your elderly loved ones are handling things (or not handling them as the case may be.) Are there unopened bills laying around, or paperwork laying around as if forgotten)? Any collection notices, any mentions of financial questions on things they aren’t used to dealing with? Especially with older women, whose deceased husbands used to handle all the finances, they often have more questions than sometimes they want to admit to. Inquiring and opening the door to the subject, may make it easier for them to discuss the problems. Also be alert to unusual purchases or recent house repairs that were unnecessary as many scammers target the vulnerable senior population. Warn your family members of these scams so they don’t fall victim to them.
Living Conditions: Living conditions are often a sign as to a bigger problem. If you notice the home is not up to the standards they had prior, there could be something more going on. Check the fridge for old food, garbage piling up, clean floors and dishes. Be sure to check in to see if your elderly loved ones need assistance, or if there are changes to be made to make it easier for them to get around the house to better maintain it. Whether it’s physical limitations that prevent their doing more to clean and maintain the home, or because of a mental condition that they don’t realize they are in a dirty environment, a dirty home is a sign that something is wrong.
The Caretaker: Watch for one spouse covering for the limitations of the other. One spouse may start to answer for the other, finish their sentences when they struggle, correct their memories of events, finish stories when the end is forgotten, and hover close by in case they are needed for even some of the small tasks we face every day. This is usually in an effort to hide the decline of mental or physical capabilities of their spouse. Sometimes it is helpful in these situations to ask about any recent trips to the doctor, or offer to accompany them to a checkup and suggest one might be necessary. Unfortunately, Caretakers will often spend so much time caring for their spouse that it is detrimental to their own health. Statistically, most caretakers pass away before the unhealthy spouse because of the stress to their own lives and health. It’s important to come alongside them, and make sure they have the assistance they need to remain healthy themselves.
Mobility Limitations: Age affects so many things, especially our bodies and how much they can do. As our loved ones age, it’s important to ensure that they can still get around easily. Watching their movements over the holidays is helpful. Are they in pain as they move? Are they slower than the last time you saw them? Discuss these issues with a doctor and help develop a plan to ensure your loved one can get to and from appointments and errands and if necessary, have that difficult discussion about alternative transportation to driving.
I’ll add a caution to this blog post: Don’t ruin the holidays by bringing up the tough subjects, have fun at the holidays and enjoy time with your elderly loved ones. Especially since there are no guarantees as to how much time we have left with them. But be aware too that they are elderly and that aging brings with it new problems. Make sure your loved ones are managing their lives properly and are remaining as healthy as they can be for their ages. If your observations do cause concern, speak with a doctor, and consult with an attorney on the next steps to take. Don’t discuss the problems in the middle of Thanksgiving Dinner though, rocking the holiday boat can be dangerous and upsetting. But start that discussion with family members, comparing notes and discussing options. Then broach the subject and next steps after the holidays are over. And most importantly, BE RESPECTFUL. These are not children, they are adults, aging and vulnerable, but still adults. Adults with a lifetime of experience and knowledge. Respect that aspect, and the conversation, the options, and the decisions made, will be that much easier and more productive!