The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate togetherness, especially if you haven’t seen loved ones regularly throughout the year. If you have elderly loved ones, you should look for certain behaviors and physical actions that could show that you may want to check in more often after the holidays.

6 Holiday Warning Signs that Mom or Dad May Need Help

 “Some elderly will isolate themselves in the holidays because they do make them depressed,” Registered Nurse Tammy Hailey said. Ask yourself these questions to make sure your loved one is getting the support they need:

  • Has your loved one stopped answering or returning phone calls?
  • Have they lost interest in things they used to enjoy, like bingo or lunch with their friends?
  • Did they forego buying gifts for the holidays this year?
  • Is your loved one skipping family events entirely?

Senior isolation has been a large topic of conversation in healthcare in addition to treating physical symptoms, because it can lead to depression, which increases risk of mortality.

“Delve a little deeper,” Hailey said. “Some patients I’ve seen spend days in their home and never speak to anyone.”

Physical Signs

Hailey says if your loved one is having more trouble standing up or sitting down, or has to hold onto furniture to steady themselves as they walk, it could be because they have weakness related with a condition or as a sign of aging that should be addressed. Therapy, or the use of assistive devices like a cane or a walker, can be a great help to keep them safe and lessen their risk of falling.

Personal Hygiene

“Take note of if they’re doing scrub downs beside the tub, or if they’re taking a full shower,” Hailey said. “It may not be because they’re lazy – they may not feel safe in the shower. Ask questions, such as ‘Do you think a grab bar would be helpful in the shower?’ A lot of times people will stop doing things when they don’t feel safe but they don’t tell anybody.”

Nutrition

Hailey says to check or ask if your loved one is eating entirely frozen, ready-made meals, which makes for a limited diet.  

“A lot of people stop eating right because they can’t stand to cook,” Hailey said. “Physical and occupational therapy can help.”

Occupational therapy helps people better perform daily activities while using the least amount of energy, and physical therapy helps them with strengthening exercises. Therapy at home is especially helpful for people who have recently been in the hospital for several days.

“For every day in the hospital, it takes a week at home to recover because muscles weaken while a person is lying in the bed,” Hailey said.  

In addition to these general aging considerations, there are certain conditions that you should monitor even more closely.

“People at higher risk are those living with illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, heart failure or diabetes,” Hailey said. She outlines key things to look for these at risk groups.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder

“With COPD, look at their endurance to make sure it hasn’t gone down. If they could stand up and make a meal, and now they’re sitting or taking breaks, or have increased shortness of breath,” Hailey explains. “Many people also increase their oxygen without a doctor’s order a lot of patients do it themselves. Does your loved one use more pillows at night to prop them up instead of lying flat? All of these could indicate COPD exacerbations over the holidays – with the weather change, it’s common.”

Heart Failure

For patients with heart failure, the biggest thing to monitor during the holidays is salt intake because too much can increase blood pressure or cause the body to hold onto fluid. You can help by keeping the salt shaker off the table, encouraging anyone preparing food to cut down on salt in recipes and opting for low-sodium food options (sorry, ham lovers!).

“You want to look for swelling in their body, especially lower extremity swelling, which often is the easiest to see. You want to monitor weight increases and try to encourage them to weigh every day.” Hailey said. “Do you notice more complaints of shortness of breath? Do they have a dry, unproductive cough?  These could all be warning signs.”

Diabetes

“Food is the biggest problem for people living with diabetes. Because holiday gatherings often have many people bringing different foods, your loved one still needs to follow their diet and not increase their insulin to adjust to what they’re eating,” Hailey said. “Make sure they’re monitoring their blood sugar regularly, and if it spikes, then contact the doctor right away.”

How You Can Help  

Hailey says the best places to start are by asking questions rather than taking things at face value, and offering to do things with your loved one more regularly. If you have more pressing concerns, your loved one’s doctor can be a good contact because they can order changes in medication or home care services that could benefit if symptoms are uncontrolled.

If you have healthcare questions, call 1.866.KINDRED (1.866.546.3733) to speak with a Registered Nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are here to listen to your unique situation and find care options in your area.