Family Living Focus: Home for the Holidays: What to watch out for

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 onesdaily life.

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 or down)

— 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 lighting?

— 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 emotional support?

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 next steps?

1. 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?

2. 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. Do not give into the temptation to share more than 2-3 of your concerns.

3. 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.

4. Plan a follow up visit to check on your family member or schedule calls to continue the conversation.

5. If possible, enlist the help of neighbors/friends/relatives to check on your loved one and keep you informed.

6. 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. 

7. Follow the proactive steps recommended 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. Google or 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.


Information adapted from article by Janice Wallace in Today’s Caregiver.Com Newsletter, December 23, 2014, Issue #776.

If you would like more information on “Home for the Holidays” contact Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus University of Minnesota at waldn001@umn.edu. Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus™ information in next week’s paper.


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