Red Flags: Holiday Visits with Seniors


Many times, holiday visits are the only opportunity for you to see your loved one face to face so, it’s important to pay close attention to their environment, physical, and mental/emotional health.

This blog post is to discuss red flags, that may pinpoint issues that some extra help at home may be needed.

Weight Loss – this is the most common and apparent sign of poor health, either physical or mental. Possible causes could be cancer, dementia or depression. You should also consider are there issues, financially. Seniors are on a fixed income, but price of food is not fixed. Seniors sometimes experience reduced energy, which can make it challenging to shop, prepare meals, and clean up (so another clue maybe an unkept house). Certain medications and aging in general can change the way food tastes. If weight loss is evident, talk to your loved one about your concerns and schedule an appointment with PCP to address the issue (asking for a consult to a dietician or nutritionist would be a great idea too).

Changes in Balance and Mobility - A hesitancy to walk, changes in gait or obvious pain during movement or activity can be a sign of worsening arthritis or neurological problems. Unsteadiness on feet or with walking, increases the risk of falling, which can cause injury or worse. If you notice changes in their mobility and coordination, make an appointment with their PCP to discuss options to keep them comfortable, safe, and mobile, such as pain management, occupational and physical therapy and medical equipment.

Emotional Well-Being - Keep an eye out for changes in your loved one’s moods, behavior, and social activity. You can’t always gauge someone’s emotional state over the telephone, even if you speak daily. Look for signs of withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in hobbies, and changes in basic home maintenance and personal hygiene. If you notice sudden odd behavior in your loved one, such as confusion or agitation, be sure to seek medical attention; this could be stroke, UTI, pneumonia, or some other acute (sudden) condition occurring, that warrants immediate care.

Home / Environment - Attention must also be paid to the environment. Take a walk-through of the home while you’re visiting to see the house appears as usual. Burned cookware could indicate that your loved one forgets food on the stove or in the oven. An overflowing hamper or trash can could mean they don’t have the strength and/or desire to do laundry or carry out the trash. Check the expiration dates on food, medications, and over-the-counter medications. Review medication bottles for the last filled/pick up date. You know your loved one and their habits, so always go with your gut if something seems off.

While you may want to keep things light during the holiday season, do take this opportunity to address any red flags that you observe. Collect any necessary information while you are in town to avoid a crisis down the road.

Throughout this process, remember to empower your loved one to control their own life as much as possible. Express that your goals are to keep them safe, happy and healthy, at home, just like they want to be. But, recognize that additional services, resources, or devices may need to be added in order to maintain their independence. Always offer your suggestions (adding medical equipment or aides) with the explanation that it deserves a period of trial and error.

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