The holidays are just around the corner. In the land of caregiving, this is about the time when the articles and blog posts start popping up about the red flags to look for when you make that annual or semiannual visit to spend time with elderly loved ones. During this holiday visit, you will perhaps eat some turkey, exchange holiday gifts, enjoy the happiness of the season, and --- look for the telltale signs that (fill in the blank) can no longer manage things independently.
This is NOT one of those holiday blog posts.
I get that if you aren’t able to visit your elderly loved one on a regular basis, it is tough to determine physical and mental changes that may be resulting in real problems. And we all know how adept our elderly loved ones are in concealing their shortcomings as they fight tooth and nail to maintain their independence (which I totally understand and anticipate also doing when I get old!!).
My point is that if you are thinking that part of your holiday visit is going to involve scoping out what’s really going on with your elderly loved one, then you already know that you have a problem. So don’t wait for the holidays to start taking action!
Some troubling telltale signs you should be able to pick up on prior to your holiday visit include:
Alarming phone conversations. These may include factual statements that concern you (“Dad just doesn’t seem himself,” “I can never seem to find my checkbook,” “What day is it?,” “I got so busy I forgot to eat.”). They may also include other cues like a loved one sounding confused or tired. All of this might point to a physical decline, medication issues, or an onset of dementia.
Lack of phone conversations. Your loved one doesn’t call. Or you can’t reach them, often because they didn’t hear a phone ring, misplaced a cell phone, failed to charge a cell phone, or didn’t notice that a cell phone powered off. Again, these can point to physical or mental challenges (hearing impairment, physically unable to reach a phone, mentally unable to follow through on the task).
Similar changes that you might notice if you exchange emails or Skype with your elderly loved one. Especially with Skype you might notice physical changes or a loss of weight that indicate your elderly loved one is not eating properly or taking care of himself or herself.
Phone calls or other contacts that you get from neighbors or other relatives alerting you to changes in behavior.
So, yes, use your holiday visit to probe deeper into what might be going on in your absence. (My “10 Things You Can Do TODAY to Improve Your Caregiving Life” offers some guidance.) But don’t wait for that visit to start thinking about what you can do now to help your elderly loved one remain safe, happy, and healthy. By going with your gut and taking action at the first sign of a problem, you have a better chance of making that holiday visit more enjoyable for everyone.