Many elderly are able to mask declining health throughout the year because they are able to keep a fairly steady routine. During the holidays, when schedules are more erratic, family caregivers may be able to detect signs of physical and mental decline in their aging loved ones. Knowing what to look for is crucial.
Physical changes including balance issues, decreased strength as well as lack of attention to personal hygiene and appearance can be a sign that there is a potential problem.
When you pick them up or dropping them off take note of their home: is it unusually disorganized or unclean?
Are they having trouble getting in and out of the car or chairs at a relative’s home?
Are they unsteady when having to go up or down stairs?
Are they dressing in more casual clothes than they would have in past years, wearing items that are easier to put on such as sweat-clothes or seasonally inappropriate clothing?
Do their clothes have stains on them or an odor as if worn numerous times and not washed?
Is their hair unkempt, especially women who would usually have their hair done for special occasions?
Is there a change in their physical odor due to lack of attention to their personal hygiene?
Mental changes including lack of usual interpersonal skills or inappropriate responses to questions, as well as uncharacteristic silence can be a sign that something has changed.
When driving them to or from a holiday gathering were they ready when you arrived?
Did they seem agitated or distracted?
Are they struggling to keep up with conversation or staying quiet when they would normally share their opinion or insight?
Are they able to appropriately answer direct questions?
Are they unable to make simple decisions or asking others to make decisions for them?
Do they become easily agitated over seemingly small issues or challenges?
Are they able to appropriately name or identify family and friends?
Other pro-active observations:
Look in the refrigerator to make sure they have a sufficient amount of groceries as well as look for potentially expired items.
Check prescription bottles to see if they have been refilled, note if they were all filled at the same or multiple pharmacies.
You’ve identified some areas of change – now what?
Talk to your family member about scheduling an appointment with their physician and tell them you want to go along. If you are met with resistance be firm but loving in your desire to accompany them.
In preparation for the appointment, make a list of all medications taken by your loved one and research the potential side effects, as well as consult with a pharmacist about possible interactions.
Sit down ahead of time with your loved one and create a written list of questions for the doctor and bring the list with to the appointment.
Make sure all of your questions are answered during the appointment.
Be an advocate for your aging loved ones by being pro-actively aware of changes and assisting them in finding resources that can assist them in maintaining an optimal level of independence.