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Home for the Holidays
by: Janice Wallace
Many of us live far away from our
families. The holidays are times when we reconnect with
our loved ones. Holidays are an opportunity to take an
objective look at how the seniors in our families are
coping. Take time to notice if things have changed. Your
visit may reveal that your frequent phone calls are not
giving you a complete picture of your loved ones daily
Use the following questions as a guide. Determine if
there have been any significant changes in their
abilities and environment since your last visit.
Is your family member clean and properly dressed?
Has he experienced any significant change in weight? (up
How is her balance? Is she walking well? If the home has
stairs, can she navigate the stairs safely?
Observe closely to determine if your family member has
experienced changes to his hearing, sight or speech.
How is her energy level?
How is his short term memory?
Can he perform daily tasks?
Does he ask the same questions over and over?
When did she last visit the doctor?
Take a careful look at your family member s environment.
Is the home neat, clean and well maintained?
Are there obvious hazards in the house that need to be
fixed such as loose throw rugs, excessive clutter or low
Should grab bars be installed in the bathroom?
How safe is the neighborhood?
Are services such as grocery stores, banks, and medical
offices easy to access?
If the person drives, take a ride with them during the
day and at night. How is his driving? Does he see and
respond appropriately to changes in traffic, road
hazards and pedestrians?
What is your family member s average day like? Does he
have opportunities to socialize?
If your loved one is caring for another family member,
is he/she getting respite from care giving and receiving
If your observations lead to concerns, you need to
create an action plan. If the situation is unsafe or the
person is at risk, immediate action will be required. In
most cases you have some time to begin making changes
and providing resources to your loved one. What are your
Find a quiet, relaxed time to check in with your loved
one. What does he/she see as the biggest challenges or
concerns for daily living?
In a calm manner, share 2-3 of your major concerns with
your family member. You may meet with resistance or
denial. Try not to let the conversation escalate
emotionally. Don t give into the temptation to share
more than 2-3 of your concerns.
Brainstorm with your loved one and other family members
about possible solutions. Offer to research and bring
information back to the family.
Many times you may only get to step 1 and 2. This is ok.
Communicating is like gardening. It takes patience. You
have just planted some seeds for the future.
Plan a follow up visit to check on your family member or
schedule calls to continue the conversation.
If possible, enlist the help of
neighbors/friends/relatives to check on your loved one
and keep you informed.
Consider hiring a geriatric care manager who can assess
your family member s condition and provide regular
status reports on his/her situation. Care managers can
also recommend elder care resources.
Follow the proactive steps I recommend in the next
paragraph to learn about elder care resources where your
family member lives.
If your family member is doing fine, this is your chance
to be proactive. While you are in the area, take time to
visit local elder care resource centers. Gather
information that you may need for the future. Use the
phone book to identify additional resources. Gather
contact information for your family member s doctor and
neighbors. Put together a list of medications he is
taking. Plan future conversations to understand her
wishes if she becomes ill or incapacitated. Make a plan
to keep the lines of communication open.
The holidays are a wonderful time of year to reconnect
with distant relatives. Give your loved ones the gift of
your time and care by helping them address problems that
may have crept up during the year.