8 Warning Signs to Watch for When Visiting Elderly Relatives During the Holidays (and what you can do about it)

The holiday season is a special time when families come together to celebrate, create cherished memories, and reconnect with their loved ones. For many of us, this may be the only time of the year when we get to spend quality time with our elderly relatives. While it's a joyous occasion, it can also be a valuable opportunity to assess the health and well-being of our aging loved ones. During your visit, keep an eye out for these 8 warning signs that might indicate a decline in their health and cognitive skills and some suggestions for how you can help them.

1. Changes in Home Environment

Your elderly relative's living conditions can reveal a lot about their well-being. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Clutter and disorganization: A once tidy and organized home that has become cluttered and messy may indicate cognitive decline or physical limitations that affect their ability to maintain the space.
  • Neglected household chores: If you notice piles of dirty dishes, unopened mail, or a neglected garden, it could suggest that your loved one is struggling to manage daily tasks.
  • Safety hazards: Check for any potential safety hazards, such as loose rugs, unsecured handrails, or inadequate lighting, which can increase the risk of accidents in the home.

What you can do:
During the Visit: Offer to help with light housekeeping, decluttering, or organizing. Encourage your relatives to maintain a clean and safe living space. Consider conducting a safety assessment of the home and make necessary modifications, like installing grab bars or removing trip hazards.

After the Visit: Coordinate with local handyman services or contractors to make home modifications if needed. Keep in touch with your loved one and provide resources for housekeeping services if they struggle to maintain their living space.

2. A Decline In Personal Hygiene

A noticeable decline in personal grooming and hygiene can be a clear indicator of deteriorating health. Look for signs such as unwashed clothes, body odor, or an unkempt appearance. A lack of self-care may signal physical limitations or cognitive difficulties.

What you can do:
During the Visit: Gently address concerns about personal hygiene with your loved one. Offer assistance without making them feel self-conscious. You might help them organize their daily routine or consider hiring a caregiver to provide support.

After the Visit: Connect with local home care agencies or explore the possibility of hiring a caregiver or home health aide. Ensure that they have the necessary personal care items and that their bathroom is equipped with safety features to support their independence.

3. Sudden Weight Loss or Gain 

Pay attention to your loved one's weight and eating habits. Weight loss or gain, especially if it’s sudden, may indicate underlying health issues or difficulties in maintaining a balanced diet.

What you can do:
During the Visit: Prepare and share nutritious meals with them.

After the Visit: Consult with their healthcare provider to rule out any medical conditions contributing to the weight changes. Consider arranging for a registered dietitian to provide dietary guidance and meal planning support. Encourage them to maintain a food diary or use a meal delivery service if necessary.

4. Changes in Behavior

The way your elderly relative behaves can reveal important insights into their overall well-being. Pay close attention to the following:

  • Social withdrawal: If your loved one becomes increasingly isolated, avoids social interactions, or stops engaging in activities they used to enjoy, it could be a sign of depression or cognitive decline.
  • Mood swings: Drastic changes in mood, such as sudden anger, sadness, or confusion, may indicate underlying emotional or cognitive issues.
  • Disorientation: Frequent confusion about time, place, or people can be a warning sign of cognitive decline, particularly if this confusion is new or escalating.

What you can do:
During the Visit: If you notice changes in your loved one's behavior, the best thing you can do is engage with them in a compassionate and non-judgmental manner. Spend quality time together, offer emotional support, and encourage open conversations. Try to involve them in activities they enjoy.

After the Visit: After returning home, consider staying in regular contact through phone calls or video chats. If the behavioral changes were concerning, reach out to their primary healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. You can also explore local support groups and resources to help manage the emotional aspects of the situation.

5. Forgetfulness, Repeated Questions, or Difficulty Communicating 

Memory lapses, forgetfulness, or repeated questions can be early signs of cognitive decline.

What you can do:
During the Visit: take note of any instances where your relative forgets recent conversations, struggles to recall names or events, or repeats the same questions frequently. Be patient when your loved one forgets things or repeats questions. Difficulty in finding words, slurred speech, or difficulty in following conversations may be signs of speech or cognitive problems. You can help by creating reminders or notes to aid their memory. Encourage them to use calendars, digital devices, or medication organizers to stay organized.

After the Visit: Encourage them to visit a healthcare provider for a memory assessment and discuss potential treatments or interventions. Regularly engage in conversations with them to maintain social interaction and stimulate their cognitive skills.

Consider giving them a Livindi tablet. Your loved one can video call family members by tapping their picture. Video calling enables everyone to observe behaviors and the environment while they are engaged in the conversation. The digital picture frame constantly scrolls pictures the whole family can send instantly with the Livindi App from any phone, keeping them up to date. Medication reminders and agenda features help them help them to remember things or events. Livindi is also HIPPA compliant, so your loved one can receive telehealth appointments if traveling to a doctor’s office is too difficult.

6. Changes in Medication Management

  • Missed doses: Frequent missed doses or taking medications at the wrong times can be a sign that your loved one is struggling to manage their prescriptions.

  • Expired medications: Check for expired medications in their medicine cabinet, as this may indicate difficulties in keeping track of when to refill prescriptions.

What you can do:
During the Visit: If you observe issues with medication management, offer to organize their pills in a pill organizer, set up reminders on their phone, or involve a professional caregiver to administer medications. Make sure they have an up-to-date list of medications and their dosages.

After the Visit: Arrange for a comprehensive medication review with their healthcare provider. Explore pharmacy services that can deliver medications to their home in pre-packaged doses, making it easier for them to stay on track with their prescriptions.

7. Frequent Accidents or Falls

Unexplained bruises or injuries can indicate mobility issues or safety hazards in the home.

What you can do:
During the Visit: Observe if your elderly relative has experienced any recent accidents or falls or has any unexplained bruises, cuts, or injuries. Ask them about the circumstances surrounding these injuries. If they appear unsteady or struggle with mobility, recommend using assistive devices like canes, walkers, or grab bars in the home to reduce the risk of falls.

After the Visit: Arrange for a home safety evaluation and make any necessary modifications to prevent accidents. Discuss physical therapy or balance exercises with their healthcare provider to improve their strength and stability. Consider exploring personal emergency response systems or wearable fall detection devices for added safety.

If you notice recurring or suspicious injuries, document them and report your concerns to their healthcare provider or a local Adult Protective Services agency. Investigate the need for assistive devices or mobility aids to reduce the risk of further injuries. Encourage your loved one to wear appropriate footwear with good traction.

8. Neglect of Finances or Bills

What you can do:
During the Visit: Check for signs of financial neglect, such as unpaid bills, unopened financial statements, or unusual financial transactions. Offer to help organize their financial paperwork and set up automatic bill payments if needed.

After the Visit: Collaborate with your loved one to create a financial plan that includes a trusted family member or financial advisor who can assist with bill payments and monitor their finances. Consider setting up alerts or notifications for any unusual account activity. Encourage them to create an advance directive or power of attorney to ensure their financial affairs are managed in accordance with their wishes if they become unable to do so themselves.

The holiday season offers a unique opportunity to bond with elderly relatives and to ensure their well-being. By being attentive to these eight warning signs, you can take proactive steps during your visit and afterward to support your loved ones in maintaining their health, safety, and independence. Whether it's addressing changes in the home environment, personal hygiene, nutrition, behavior, memory, medication management, accidents, falls, or financial affairs, your care and consideration can have a lasting positive impact on their quality of life. Remember, the holiday season is not only a time for celebration but also an opportunity to ensure the well-being of those we cherish.