5 Ways to Check in on the Elderly During the Holiday Season

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The holiday season is fast approaching. As I write this, the leaves are falling from the trees and there is the distinct smell of winter encroaching on us. About this time every year, I am reminded of all the fun and chaos that goes with the next coming months. Between dinners, lunches, letters, and phone calls it’s easy to forget about those who are less fortunate and cannot care for themselves.

When I managed a small home health care company, it was usually about this time of the year that I would start making calls to clients or client’s families to see if they would need services.

The number of clients who would need services due to no family around or able to visit always shocked me in an unpleasant way. It made my stomach turn but I also was happy that we could step in and perhaps provide some holiday cheer if not some comfort for a short while.

If you have a parent, grandparent, or someone you know that is elderly, this is the perfect time to check in on them. It’s a great excuse to plan a short or long vacation to stay with them or bring them to you. Maybe you can’t make that work this season, and that’s okay. A simple phone call is a great way to both lift their spirits and check in on them.

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Another point I want to make here is this. Most holiday seasons, or shortly after, we saw a spike in care needed. Can you guess why? Those that did go visit a loved one found things were much worse than they thought. I used to have a large number of concerned family members call me asking if they thought that their parent/grandparent could benefit from our services. My answer was almost always yes.

So, how do you know if that person you care for needs care themselves? There are a few easy signs and a few that are not so easy to pick up on. Here are a few tips on checking to see if they need care and some easy transition questions to go with them.

1. Check their fridge.

Is there old food or not very much food in there?
If the answer is yes, a simple question like, “Mom, are you having trouble getting groceries?” can get the conversation started. From there, depending on their answer, it could be a good idea to initiate the concept of home care or home health care.

If that does not go over well, and they seem fine otherwise, there are a lot of grocery stores or companies that will deliver groceries weekly. Heck, you can even give mom a call weekly, see what she wants for groceries, and order them online now! You can even sneak in some healthier food alternatives this way. Double bonus!

2. What’s their house/apartment/condo’s condition?

Is it unkempt, have an odor, or have anything that needs repaired? There are a couple of things in this category that you can check specifically.

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Are there objects in odd places in the house? A great example of this is putting jewelry in kitchen drawers or bathroom items in the living room. If so, this is an indicator of either some paranoid behavior or confusion. Either of these situations warrants furthering the conversation.

A good way to start this type of conversation is, “Dad, do you know why your watch is in the silverware drawer?”. If they don’t have an answer or act frustrated, then back down. However, keep in mind that this is an indicator to get more help involved.

If there is an odor, try finding the source. If it’s coming from the fridge, then you can head back to number 1 on the list. If it’s coming from the bathroom or bedroom, there are a few things to take into consideration. Either they are unable to clean it themselves, have forgotten, or don’t notice the mess or smell.

All three of these situations warrant more help as well. You can start this conversation by asking something along the lines of, “Grandma, what do you think about getting someone to clean for you?”.

3. Temperature

What’s the temperature like when you walk in? If they live in a cool part of the country, check to make sure it’s not too cold in the house. A lot of times, to save money, the elderly will avoid turning the furnace on or turn it on very, very low. The same goes for air conditioning. If it’s sweltering when you walk in, it’s likely they are not turning the air conditioner on due to cost.

Another thing to check for are space heaters, electric blankets, etc. Watch to see if they seem forgetful or careless with them. Check if they are turned on or seem too close to objects around them. It might be a good idea to consider taking these out and turning the furnace on.

Implementing something like the Nest, a smart thermostat that you can check on from wherever you are, is a great option. You can check out the low prices on Amazon by clicking here.

4. Appearance

What does your loved one look like when you see them? Are they disheveled?

This is easier to check with females than males. If your mother/grandmother hair is not combed, their outfit doesn’t match, or they have put make up on wrong (example: lipstick on eyebrows or eyeliner or lips), it’s definitely time to contact some help. It’s also a great idea to help them get cleaned up in the meantime.

For males, a good way to check for odor, if it isn’t apparent right away, is to give them a hug. You can tell if they are fairly stinky or not pretty easily that way. Another good way to tell with men is their clothing. If it looks dirty, they may have not washed it for quite a while.

This topic is a little bit more difficult to bring up with the person you care for. A good way to approach it may be to ask something like, “Dad, would it be helpful if we had someone do your laundry for you? That way you don’t have to do it.” There’s a very fine line between being insulting and helpful here!

5. Behavior

The way your parent/grandparent acts is a very complex thing to watch for and varies so much from person to person. There are a few things that are very obvious and you would no doubt notice them on your own, but there are also behaviors that are less obvious.

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Are they struggling to form sentences or express how they feel? Sometimes this can be seen accompanied with frustration. A variation of this behavior is saying things that don’t make sense. Often times you can catch them implementing what you or a TV show just said and they turn it around thinking this happened to them.

Another red flag can be a change in demeanor. While the holiday season can definitely bring on some strong emotions with the elderly, if the way they act is the opposite of their normal demeanor, it’s worth a visit to the doctor.

If the person you are visiting makes strange comments such as accusing others of robbery, it’s definitely time to call in extra support. More often than not, they have simply misplaced items.

The Result

There are many more signs, warnings, and red flags you can look for when visiting the person you care for. These are five very basic and straightforward signs to check for this holiday season.

The way you react to any of these situations is crucial. It’s very important to be gentle with your parent/grandparent. Make sure when or if you do talk to them that you remember to not be condescending. They want to keep their independence. They do not want to be told what to do. A helping hand is the key here.

Suggesting small changes or help is no easy feat. Keep in mind that you would rather have them safe, healthy, and happy over everything else.
A visit to the doctor’s office after one of these stays could be a great way to determine if they need help.

Also, most home health or home care agencies will send a representative out for free to give you an evaluation and their opinion. It’s definitely worth the time to call around and find out more about services offered in your area.

Another great way to keep tabs on an elderly person you care about in a non-invasive way, is to utilize some great technology. The Silver Mother is a non-intrusive way to help keep peace of mind for you and create a safety net for your parent/grandparent. You can check out my review on it or head over to Amazon to see what others are saying about it by clicking here.

Visiting a loved one is a great way to show them you care and check in on them at the same time. It can be a very tough and lonely time for the elderly. Think of how happy you will make them if you go see them over the holidays! This is a trip you definitely won’t regret. You can gain peace of mind and check up on them so they are around for many holiday seasons to come.

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Author: Kristine Thiessen

Kristine has been interested in caring for the others since her early teen years. She started out by getting her CNA license at 16 and taking college medical related classes while still in high school. From there, she went on to nursing school where she decided needles and shots were just not for her. Changing tracts, she finished her bachelor's degree in biology with the hopes of helping others. While in college, she shadowed, worked along side, and interned with several different medical offices. After graduating, she worked in a couple of healthcare positions before settling in to managing a home health care company. This is where she found her real passion. She loved everything from the increased and lengthened independence to the one-on-one care. Seeing all the different medical fields opened her eyes to the benefits and drawbacks of different ways of helping others and treating them. Her main focus now is creating a safe environment in client's homes to help keep their independence as long as possible. Through Home Health Gear, you will find numerous articles pertaining to medical equipment you need in your home to handy gadgets to make life just a little easier for the elderly and disabled. These are accompanied by opinion pieces by Kristine and medical professionals guest posting.

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