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    Aging Well Partners
  • Dec 21
  • 4 min

Headed Home for the Holidays? Ensuring Your Aging Loved Ones are Safe & Well Cared For!

Headed Home for the Holidays? Ensuring Your Aging Loved Ones are Safe & Well Cared For!

Bags packed and headed home for the holidays this year? Many will be flying or driving the miles to visit family and old friends this holiday season. But how long has it been since you’ve seen your aging loved ones? If you are visiting an aging adult for the holidays and haven’t seen them for a while, there are four main areas you will want to pay special attention to.

 

Physical Environment  

Someone’s physical space or environment can tell you a lot about what’s going on in their lives.

How does home look when you get there?

What does it smell like?

Does it appear clean and tidy?

Are there tripping hazards present (throw rugs, electrical cords, etc.)? My mother keeps her home clean and tidy, yet she is a huge fan of throw rugs. She has small dogs and tells me the rugs are more for the dogs than they are for her. Either way, throw rugs are one of the primary causes of falls in the home.

How does the exterior of the home? Is the place falling into disrepair? Our homes are typically one of our biggest investments so keeping the home in good repair – inside and out – benefits not only the person living there but the initial investment put into the home (which has likely skyrocketed in today’s housing market).

Is there adequate lighting if your loved one were to go outside after dark?

Does your loved one still possess the things you are used to seeing when you have visited previously? A family member of my client started noticing that every time they visited, more and more pieces of art were missing. Where once there was a mantle full of hand carved pieces of artwork, the number of pieces were slowly dwindling with no explanation or recollection of where they had gone or who they may have been given to.

 

Mental/Emotional State 

Having conversations with your aging loved ones can help to uncover what may be going on for them mentally.

Has your loved one forgotten your spouse’s name or the names of your kids? I had a client tell me that he called his mother on the phone and instead of asking how each grandchild was doing, she asked him “how is your family?”. This occurred as odd to him at the time but once he started putting the pieces together, he finally realized that his mother was in the beginning stages of dementia.

Are they forgetting to take their medication(s) as prescribed? Having a medication box is a great way to tell if someone is taking their medication as directed.

Are they showered and wearing clean clothes or is the bathroom – particularly the bathtub – being used as extra storage? When a client of mine finally let me into her home, I asked to use the bathroom. I found she was using the tub/shower enclosure for storing paper towels, toilet paper and garbage bags full of clothing. There was no way she had been using the tub or shower. I now understood her lack of personal hygiene and found the right kind of help for her.

Have they given up arts, crafts, or hobbies they used to love to do? It could be a matter or physicality, or it could be more of a mental issue…or a combination. Especially during the pandemic, the focus on mental health and how damaging social isolation can be to one’s mental and physical health cannot be overlooked nor taken lightly.

 

Physical Abilities   

While home for the holidays, keep a close eye on how your aging loved one is doing physically.

Are they having increased difficulty sitting down or standing up?

Do they have stairs in the home they are afraid to navigate? My great aunt lived in an older home and at a certain stage of her aging (and moderate dementia), she stopped going downstairs. The only issue with this was her washer and dryer were downstairs. This meant she was no longer doing her own laundry, which explained why her bed sheets were so dirty.

Are they still using that old step stool to reach items being stored in high places? Perhaps it’s time to find alternate storage options.

Is personal hygiene becoming an issue? This will especially be noticeable if your aging loved one is becoming incontinent of bladder and/or bowel. Skin breakdown, due to prolonged contact with urine or feces, can become a very serious and life-threatening matter if left unnoticed or unattended.

Does your loved one have unexplained bruising on their body? Often the person can neither remember how or where they got the bruising, or they have been falling and have been afraid to share that with you.

 

Nutritional Status   

Malnutrition in our aging adult population is on the rise. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, up to half of all adults 65 years and older are at risk for malnutrition. And malnutrition is the “leading cause of morbidity and mortality, especially among older adults”. Malnutrition in our aging population has various causes, many of which overlap with the person’s physical abilities and mental capacity.

Is your aging loved one physically able to plan, shop for and cook nutritious meals each day?

Is your aging loved one mentally able to plan, shop for and cook nutritious meals each day? Often, a simple look through the refrigerator or glance at what’s in the garbage can alert you to how well your loved one is eating – or not. Pre-packaged and highly processed foods are often eaten by seniors because of their convenience.  But the downsides to these pre-packaged and “convenient” foods are numerous and often dangerous (high levels of sodium and trans fats, contain high fructose corn syrup and/or high amounts of sugar, levels, and additives like aspartame, monosodium glutamate, and nitrates/nitrites). Any foods with the words “low-fat”, “low carb” or “heart healthy” should be an immediate red flag; it means that fat, carbohydrates, and other real foods have been eliminated and replaced with chemicals and chemically derived additives.

With a bit of observation and some meaningful conversation with your aging loved one, you can help to ensure they are aging safely.  Enjoy this joyous holiday season, hug your loved ones often and remember that our senior population is a precious gift that we have the privilege of knowing and listening to, if only we take the time.  Happy Holidays to all!

 

Reference

https://www.eatrightpro.org/news-center/in-practice/dietetics-in-action/adult-and-senior-malnutrition

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