The Holiday Season: A time for reflection and assessment

Holiday season is upon us. Families are gathering for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years, sharing laughter and happy memories. But for families coping with elderly loved ones, the holidays can be bittersweet times, filled with concern, stress and frustration. Many elderly people live alone with their immediate family living in a distant city. Family will often only visit a few times a year, ususally around the holidays.  Because their visits may be infrequent, the changes they see in their aging loved ones can often appear dramatic. These periodic visits provide an opportunity for us to evaluate and prepare to address these changes.

How Do You Know If  An Aging Person Needs Help?

Elderly people are people in transition. The loss of family members and friends, a change in living arrangements or finances, retirement, the loss of driving privileges, even the death of a pet are lifestyle transitions that require the entire family’s attention. Ideally, our elders will ask for our help during times like these, but, as family members have learned, this may not happen. In fact, one aging parent might “cover” for the other, or one aging spouse may decline assistance from the other because he or she feels ashamed and powerless.

Know What to Look For

Things may seem normal on the outside. Some changes are barely noticeable. Once in a while we all forget details or put things off, but when a pattern of neglect develops, it may be serious. Sharpen your observational skills and look for patterns of consistent neglect within the following contexts:

  • Basic tasks – difficulty in walking, dressing, talking, eating, cooking, climbing steps, or managing medications.
  • Hygiene – infrequent bathing, unusually sloppy appearance, foul body and/or mouth odor.
  • Responsibilities – mail is unopened, papers are piled up, checkbook is unreadable, bills are unpaid, bank account overdraft notices are accumulating, and prescriptions are unfilled. Home interior and/or exterior is unkempt, laundry is piling up, automobile has new dents.
  • Health – weight loss, changes in appetite, problems swallowing, fatigue, burns, black and blue marks (possible signs of falling). Hearing loss (look for signs of lip reading and talking loudly), seems withdrawn without reason, incontinence (bet-wetting), spilling and dropping things (check carpet for stains). Complaints of muscle weakness, insomnia or excessive sleeping, dehydration.
  • Isolation – lack of interest in outside friendships, activities, or hobbies. Keeps curtains drawn day and night, has little access to transportation.
  • Attitude – sadness, display of verbal or physical abuse, talk of being depressed and feelings of despair, abuse of alcohol or drugs. Paranoia, refusal to communicate, unusual argumentativeness, a recent emotional or medical crisis.
  • Cognitive functions – consistent forgetfulness about where things are, getting lost while walking or driving, confusion. Loss of reasoning skills, difficulty answering questions, inability to find the right word, use of repetitive words or phrases. Severe personality changes, wandering, inability to recall names of familiar people or objects, inability to complete a sentence. Forgetting how to use simple, ordinary things such as a pencil, forgetting to close windows, turn off the stove, and lock doors, loss of sense of time.

Open Up A Dialogue With Elderly Family Members

Based upon your observations, if you have concluded that elder care issues demand immediate attention, it’s time to take the next step and talk about it. But beware you are about to enter a potential minefield. Without knowing the most effective ways to initiate these very sensitive conversations with your elderly family members, the probability of them telling you to mind your own business, or telling you everything is fine when it is not, is almost guaranteed. Many older people are incapable of running their own lives and homes, but often are reluctant to admit they need help. Failing eyesight, memory lapses, confusion, fatigue, sadness, drug and other substance abuses and appetite changes can account for a diminished ability to manage a home.  Consulting with their primary care physician is an important first step. Some resources you might consider that can be of help in what steps to take include Geriatric Care Management, In-home care services,  and the services of a Senior Living Advisor.

Some helpful resources include:

Senior in Home Care Services

Geriatric Care Management: Cura Care of California

A Plan for Senior Care: Senior Living Advisors

Orange County Office on Aging

If you are considering home care in Newport Beach or the surrounding Orange County areas, for yourself or an aging loved one, please call us at 949-535-2211.  We provide senior care services in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Woods, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo and surrounding areas of Orange County California.  Contact us today to learn more.