Holiday Visits Can Be Eye-Opening


Even with the challenges of the year, many of us are heading home for the holidays. Or, at the very least, we’re making plans to check in with our aging parents. According to  AARPs Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 Report, eleven percent of family caregivers are “long-distance caregivers,” meaning they live more than an hour away from their loved ones, yet provide various kinds of assistance.

It’s often difficult to assess the state of a senior adult’s health and functional abilities from afar. So, for many families, holiday visits are the only opportunity they get see their aging loved ones in person.

As joyful as the visits may be, it’s a good idea to pay even closer attention than usual to determine if there are any changes in your loved one’s behavior or physical well-being. If things aren’t quite what you expected, it may be time to start thinking about their care going forward.


What to look for:

When you head home for the holidays to visit an aging adult, check for the following:

  1. Household neglect: Look for rotting food in the refrigerator, stacks of unpaid bills, an unusual lack of tidiness, evidence of mold or vermin, scorched cookware – anything that might indicate that your loved one is not paying attention to their daily household tasks.
  2. Physical neglect: You may notice clothing that is especially odiferous, stained, or dirty, and that the person exhibits an unkempt appearance, and lack of personal hygiene or cleanliness.
  3. Unusual Weight Loss or Gain: This typically indicates that something is amiss. The person may not be eating properly, missing meals, overeating, or not taking their medications. They also may not be as physically active as they had been. Or, they may even be depressed.
  4. Lack of mobility: Pay close attention to the way your loved one moves and walks. Any noticeable changes in gait or the appearance of pain can indicate an issue. If your loved one is unsteady on his feet, he may be at risk of falling. According to the Centers for Disease Ctrol and Prevention (CDC), an estimated three million people are treated at emergency departments every year for fall-related injuries like hip fractures.
  5. Noticeable behavioral changes: You may notice that your loved one exhibits extreme irritability, aggressive and erratic behavior, anxiety, keeps repeating stories or questions, shows disorientation and/or a lack of interest in things, or refuses to engage in conversation.
  6. Forgetfulness: You also may notice an unusual level of forgetfulness – something that’s out of the ordinary – like leaving the stove top on or the car running in the garage. These are warning signs. While occasional forgetfulness comes with aging, more acute forms can be brought on as a result of certain medications. “But frequent and persistent memory lapses may indicate the onset of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease, and should not be ignored,” advises John Mastronardi, Executive Director of The Nathaniel Witherell.
  7. Other things to be aware of: Very slow recovery from illness, infections, and medication that is not being taken.

What you can do:

Check that your loved one’s environment is as safe as possible: Remove rugs that could cause someone to slip or fall; add safety bars in the shower; make appointments for your loved one to see their primary care physician and dentist, and arrange for their transportation to and from the doctors’ offices.

Keep on hand your loved one’s medical records and list of medications in case of emergency. Consider making a list for your loved one of people to contact. Leave your contact information with their neighbors or clergy.

You also may need to speak to a knowledgeable person about finding senior care and/or a compassionate, responsible on-site caregiver to check in on your loved ones and the state of their households. We at the Witherell can help.

Feel free to contact Justine Vacarro, the Witherell’s Director of Social Work, at 203-618-4257 for further information.


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