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Home For The Holidays

Warning signs that an aging parent may need help

The holidays are a special time for families to reconnect.  Whether a month or a year has passed since your last visit, it is important to discretely take note of your elderly parent’s physical, emotional and mental health.  Subtle changes in their home, appearance and behavior can indicate that it is time for a meaningful conversation about future needs, which may include extra help at home.  So, while enjoying holiday merrymaking, proactively consider the following warning signals that your loved one is encountering some difficulties with independent living.

Changes in physical and mental health

Has your loved one become more agitated, aggressive, anxious or confused? You may notice these behavioral shifts, called sundowning or late-day confusion, peak as the sun sets in the afternoon. These symptoms are often indicative of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  To minimize the experience during your time together, exposure to light and calming activities is advised, as well as following a predictable routine. Other behaviors that could indicate a problem include repeating stories, confusion over simple tasks and forgetting common vocabulary during conversations.

It also is important to pay attention to your loved one’s weight and personal hygiene. If they seem frail, have strange body odor or look disheveled, this may be an indication that they lack energy and the ability to properly care for themselves, feel depressed or are experiencing forgetfulness.  To help loved ones over the holiday, take inventory and ease their burden by helping out with grocery shopping, cooking and household chores.  Consider taking them for a haircut or a nail polish.  Boost their spirit by making them feel special and cared for.

Take note that elderly parents often attempt to mask their declining health from children and family out of fear and pride.  Many signify the need for home help as an end to personal independence – something they understandably do not want to part with!

Changes in the home

Does your meticulously organized parent suddenly have piles of unopened mail sitting on the counter, expired and moldy food in the refrigerator or burned out light bulbs, dirty dishes and expired medications? Clutter, disorganization and a lack of cleanliness are significant red flags indicating that loved ones may be losing track of finances or suffering from mobility and vision impairment. Elderly parents may not be able to see dirt or bend down to clean in hard to reach areas.  During visits you also many notice that your parent, who once enjoyed hours in the kitchen, is now increasingly reliant on take-out or simple recipes. Be sure not to embarrass your loved one with blatant comments about their living space and do not attempt to extensively rearrange their environment, which could lead to further confusion.

A loved one’s safety, comfort and happiness are always the priority.  As difficult as it is to witness a decline in a parents health or mental state, enjoy the magic of the holiday, gently lend a hand where necessary and find an appropriate and peaceful time to begin a dialog about the future. Most importantly, let your loved one lead the discussion, but do point out that with proper home health care they can continue to maintain an independent lifestyle, gain companionship and ease their daily workload.