Noticing changes in your aging loved ones during the holidays

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Ben Leavell. Courtesy Sunset Retirement Communities & Services

The holiday season is a joyous time. Families come together to share delicious meals and celebrate traditions. When family members live out of state or find themselves busy with their careers and kids, the holidays present the opportunity to notice changes among your aging parents. The gradual aging process can appear more startling when you are not around to witness daily routines.

Between preparing meals in the kitchen and decking the halls, you may observe some changes in behavior, memory or the state of your parents’ home. While these changes may not require immediate action, the holidays provide the time and space for gathered family members to begin discussing the best options for their parents’ well-being. Here are some things to consider when deciding when and how to take action.

The state of their home

If the cold weather kept your dad from putting the blow-up snowman out on the front lawn or mom bought a fake tree to avoid caring for a real one, no need to worry. These changes around the holidays are normal for aging adults trying to manage the physical signs of aging. If you visit your parents for holiday dinner and you notice an overflowing garbage bin, spoiled food in the fridge, or unopened bills on the table, these may be signs that your parents may need additional care. Changes in cleaning regimens may be cause for question. Talk to your parents and see if they need short- or long-term help with daily tasks.

Cognitive or behavioral changes

Everyone misplaces their keys or forgets a family member’s birthday. If your loved ones begin to forget family members’ names or seem confused about how to use their keys, these could be early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. While you are preparing dinner or just spending time, observe your loved one’s behavior. Take notice if they are becoming more forgetful of everyday tasks or people’s identities. Note any episodes of confusion, getting lost in familiar places, difficulty reading or speaking, or neglecting daily tasks like cleaning dishes or opening mail. Also, pay attention to their mannerisms. If your mom is typically calm but yells at the kids for playing too loudly, or your holly jolly dad seems blue, these behavioral changes also may be early signs of dementia.

Physical or health changes

Bodies age and slow down naturally; this is normal. If you are home for the holidays, pay attention to any significant decrease in your parents’ mobility, struggles with balance, or pain while performing everyday movements. Significant changes in appearance of clothing, grooming habits, or weight also may be red flags. Your parents might require extra care and greater accessibility, either in their own home or from an assisted living community. If you are concerned with their physical health and wellness, follow up with their doctors. Take time to research resources in their community if additional care or assistance is needed.

Responding to change

Upon noticing some of these changes in your loved ones’ behaviors or routines, you may start asking yourself, what are the next steps? After holiday festivities are over and guests have gone home, take a minute to talk with your family. Ask your siblings if they’ve noticed changes. They might have different perspectives or ideas on how to approach the situation. If your observations are consistent, it may be time to assess the needs of your parents moving forward.

Discuss if family members can meet their needs or if it is time to ask for help. Include your parents in the conversation, and if they are able, ask them to voice their opinions or desires regarding their care. They might already have a plan in place or need help creating one. Having a plan in place early on helps prepare you and your family for a smooth transition through the aging process. Research potential in-home services or go on tours of facilities within your budget and desired location. Do not be afraid to ask all of your questions and even ask to be placed on a waiting list, depending on your timeline. Taking these proactive steps will mean less stress and worry later down the road.

Balancing your own family, career and personal obligations can become difficult to manage once you add the role of caregiver to your list, but you don’t have to do it all alone. Shaking up holiday traditions may seem daunting at first, but having a plan for your loved ones in place can reduce stress and anxiety during the most wonderful time of the year.

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