4 Key Observations With Parents This Holiday Season

With the holidays approaching, many have made plans or are making plans to visit with their parents and other loved ones. Some family members haven’t been together for quite awhile, and this is an exciting time to celebrate being with one another. While visiting and enjoying the season, it is also important to recognize the things may have changed since the last visit. In this regard, it is important to observe your parents and their surroundings to determine if they need additional help with care and/or assisted living.

Observation 1 – Changes in Parents

• Appearance of Home – Does it seem like the home needs more maintenance than usual? Offering to help with whatever needs to be done around the house will give you a pretty good idea of things that are not getting done.
• Weight – Does it seem like they’ve lost weight or are frailer?
• Hearing – If they’re giving you answers to questions that don’t make sense, they may need to be checked by a professional for their hearing.
• Medications – Are they taking their medications consistently? Check to see if medications are organized properly and try to determine if they are taking them in a timely manner. How is their balance? If there appears to be a balance problem, medications or incorrect prescription eyeglasses could be playing a role, so visit the appropriate doctor.
• Driving – How is their driving? Have them drive if you go for a ride and take notice how they are on the road.
• Bills – Are they paying their bills? Has the mail even been opened?

Observation 2 – Surroundings for Fall Prevention

• Handrails – Are there handrails on the stairway? Is the stairway well lit? Having handrails professionally installed on both sides helps avoid falls. Handrails should also be installed in showers, toilet areas or anywhere where balance has to be shifted.
• Rugs – Could rugs be a tripping hazard? A small increase in floor height of a rug could cause problems. Non-skid rugs should be used on bathroom floors.
• Bathroom – Is there a step-in bathtub or walk in shower? What about a shower chair? A toilet safety frame? Bathrooms are a common place where seniors fall, and it can be very dangerous due to hard surfaces and sharp corners.
• Clutter – Are there newspapers, magazines, shoes and other materials lying around or on the stairs? Keep these things away from common walk areas.
• Storage – Is everything within easy reach? Eliminate the use of ladders and make sure storage items are in convenient locations.

Observation 3 – Documents for Parents End of Life Wishes

• Legal documents – Power of attorney and health care directives (living will). If these documents are complete, make sure you have copies for yourself and know where they are stored. If not, help get them going. These documents are free and can be prepared without an attorney if you are comfortable with this. Don’t wait until there’s an illness that can make it then difficult to execute. Talk to your parents and make them aware of how important it is to you (and should be to them) to have these documents completed…it’s never too early to have them done!
• Keeping Records – Keep records of your parents’ doctors, medications and contact information. This can save you from both panic and stress when an emergency arises.

Observation 4 – Normal Aging or Early Signs of Dementia

Though a medical professional dealing with the elderly is the most well equipped to diagnose dementia, it is important that family is aware of any early signs. Taking a proactive approach is vital to early diagnosis and treatment. Presently, there is no cure for the progressive dementias, such as Alzheimer’s, but treatment such as medication, nutrition and interpersonal communication could help slow the disease’s progression.

Memory loss does not necessarily mean that someone has dementia. A professional in this field gave me an analogy that sticks in my mind. She said that memory loss is when someone forgets his or her car keys, but someone suffering from a form of dementia may not remember that he or she owns a car in the first place.

Following are some signs of which to be conscious in the early stages and consult with a professional if they persist:

• Changes in short-term memory
• Adding and subtracting • Using a word incorrectly when talking
• Jumbling words
• Quiet or withdrawn
• Lack of interest or initiative
• Inability to carry out plans
• Becoming more angry, frustrated and restless
• Struggling with tasks that used to be routine

If your visiting with your family during the holidays, have a wonderful time being together. However, keep in mind that it’s important to be aware of the surroundings to create a less risky setting at home and to get the assistance necessary to keep your parents safe. Many times the relative who visits the most infrequently is the one who notices the changes.