Things to Watch for on a Holiday Visit

It’s increasingly common for people to make their home in a different city than their parents.  For many, the winter holidays are the only time of year when they can enjoy an extended stay with their older relatives.  You may notice that your elderly loved ones’ memories aren’t as sharp as they used to be, or may seem more frail than they were last Christmas, but can you tell the difference between a normal age-related change and a warning sign that they’re no longer safe living at home?  While you’re home for the holidays, keep an eye out for a few key warning signs.

Physical signs

Obvious weight loss or gain – Significant changes in weight could be an warning sign of many troubling health conditions, like diabetes, depression, cancer, or dementia.

Mobility problems – if the person struggles to rise from a chair, negotiate stairs, or exhibits a shuffling gait, they’re at a greater risk of falling in the home.  If arthritis, vision problems, diminished strength, or other physical issues interfere with their ability to perform the tasks in their normal routine, it may be time for a change.

Changes in grooming habits – People with early cognitive impairment may forget to bathe or wash clothes regularly, may struggle with more personal grooming tasks that were once routine, like setting their hair at night, shaving, or applying makeup.

Changes in the Person

Persistent short term memory loss – Loss of short term memory significant enough to interfere with the person’s daily life is not a normal part of aging.  Repeating questions or stories, forgetting recent conversations, or misplacing things more than is typical for the person are causes for concern.

Mood swings, depression, or increased irritability – personality changes may be a warning sign of cognitive decline, or it may indicate that the person is isolated and suffering from mental health issues.

Signs of Financial Trouble

Unopened bills or letters from banks, creditors, or insurers – People with early stage dementia will have trouble keeping up with bills, and may overdraw their accounts, miss monthly payments, or default on loans.  This can become a serious problem if left unattended to.

Thank you messages or solicitations from charities – Older people with memory loss and diminished critical thinking skills are especially vulnerable to scams, financial abuse, and door-to-door salespeople.  They may respond to multiple solicitation letters from a charity, forgetting they’ve already given.  If it seems that the person is spending impulsively and not in keeping with their normal habits, it may be a cause for concern.

Trouble with Driving

Dents or scrapes on the car – May be a sign that the person is having minor driving accidents.

Signs of agitation while driving – Is your loved one anxious about driving at night or on the highway?  Do they become more frustrated or emotional while driving?  Do they get easily overwhelmed in the car?  Are they having trouble navigating to a familiar place?

Signs of impaired perception – Trouble maintaining their lane, improper braking distance, slow reaction time, confusing brake and gas pedals, failing to observe traffic signals, driving too slowly, taking turns too early or too late.

Changes around the House

Decline in cleanliness of home – excessive clutter, signs of previous spills or messes that haven’t been fully cleaned up, houseplants or gardens neglected, pets underfed, not cleaned up after, or poorly groomed, yardwork neglected, home repair issues like leaks or broken appliances.

Signs of dangerous forgetfulness – Evidence that the person has started a fire in the kitchen, left the water running in the bathtub, spoiled food or perishables kept past expiration date, expired prescriptions in medicine cabinet, or a critical medication missing, indicating that the person has trouble managing their medications.

Issues with food – Multiples of the same item or a key staple food missing, indicating that the person is having trouble shopping for themselves.  Lots of takeout containers, boxed, or frozen dinners, indicating that the person is having trouble cooking and may have shifted to an unhealthy diet.


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