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 life.
the following questions as a guide. Determine if there
have been any significant changes in their abilities and
environment since your last visit.
your family member clean and properly dressed?
experienced any significant change in weight? (up or
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.
her energy level?
his short term memory? Can he perform daily tasks?
Does he ask the same questions over and over?
did she last visit the doctor?
careful look at your family member's environment.
home neat, clean and well maintained?
there obvious hazards in the house that need to be fixed
such as loose throw rugs, excessive clutter or low
grab bars be installed in the bathroom?
safe is the neighborhood?
services such as grocery stores, banks, and medical
offices easy to access?
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
is your family member's average day like? Does he have
opportunities to socialize?
your loved one is caring for another family member, is
he/she getting respite from care giving and receiving
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Janice Wallace, has been a
family caregiver for 14 years. She helps her clients
balance work, family and caregiving while preventing
caregiver burnout. For more information,