Here in Chicago we just had a day time high temperature of 88 degrees this week, but I am thinking of the holidays. The grass may still be green and the leaves may still be on the trees, but Yom Kippur is less than a month away, Thanksgiving is only two months, and so on. And I have a speaking engagement next week we are co-sponsoring with SASI (Services for Adults Staying in their Homes) called “Holiday Observations” – details are at the end of this posting. I will not be talking about how to “observe a holiday;” rather, I am going to be speaking to those who may be caregivers to older loved ones and what they should be looking for when families get together for any of the end of year holidays. Let me give you the sneak preview…
When I speak with caregivers who will be reuniting with older loved ones, I encourage them to be observant for signs that their loved one’s “quality of life” may be compromised and to engage in conversation to get feedback on how their loved one is actually doing.
What should you look for?
- Household Clutter – You older loved one does not have to be a hoarder to be at risk with the accumulated clutter of daily living. Every year one in three adults over age 65 fall, and most of these falls are at home. Look for worn carpeting or scatter rugs that may be trip hazards. Or stacks of newspapers and magazines or wires that may be obstacles to walkways in the home.
- Pantry Stocked – While you may be able to tell if your older loved one is losing weight, whether they are eating well may be a bit more subtle. You will surely have occasion to have coffee in the kitchen, so use it as a chance to surreptitiously check that your loved one is well-provisioned.
In your conversations with your older loved ones, take it one step further than simply asking the glossy “How are you doing?” What can you ask?
- How are you sleeping? – We all know that as we get older we simply need less sleep, but insomnia is another matter altogether. They may show the wear of too many sleepless nights, but the poor sleep could be a symptom of poor nutrition or even depression. When we talk to employers we often ask what keeps them awake at nights; not a bad start with your older loved one either. A pattern of poor sleep can lead to other health problems: increased blood pressure, inflamed blood vessels, increased stroke risk and more. If you do not ask, it may be you who loses sleep.
- Coffee in the Kitchen? – I had mentioned this as a way to get a current take on how well your loved one is eating. But ask about when they have coffee. Coffee during the early half of the day can impart all sorts of healthy benefits: reduced risk of stroke, diabetes and even some types of cancer. Taken too late in the day, however, we get back to sleep issues.
- Activities? – What does your loved one do on a regular basis that keeps them engaged or keeps them active? They do not have to wear a pedometer to track their activity levels, but it is important that they get out and move. Walking about an hour a day has a marked impact on wellness by way of increasing caloric burn and helping with cardiovascular circulation. It’s true that if they do not use it, they will lose it.
- How are you? – I started by saying we have to move beyond the general questioning, but it is important to ask how your loved one is feeling. Depression often has some very tangible tells. .And cardiac issues can have warning signs that can occur months before an attack. For women the signs are less clear than they are for men, so don’t assume that indigestion is about food or any other subtle cues are just a passing issue. Listen for what they may call “nothing;” it can be something.
If you are a caregiver to an older loved one, enjoy family and the holiday, and take the conversational opportunity to make it a healthy holiday and new year. You also are invited to the SASI/CCM event:
6pm – Tuesday, September 27
Bradley Investment Center
3000 Central Avenue, Evanston
Noon – Thursday, September 29
Evanston Chamber of Commerce
1609 Sherman Avenue, Ste. 205, Evanston
These workshops will be free, but registration is required.
Please call – 847/864-7274
or email – info@SASIathome.org
End of year gatherings and visits can provide an opportunity to observe the older adults in your family in a new way. What should you look for? What can you do if you have concerns? Come to find out…and bring your questions.
Charlotte Bishop is a certified Aging Life Care Professional (Geriatric Care Manager) and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.