The holidays will differ this year due to COVID-19. Families more than likely will not gather to celebrate, potentially creating major consequences for aging loved ones and their adult children. These consequences may spell another pandemic-related crisis impacting older adults.
Traditionally, the winter holiday season brings adult children together with their older loved ones for extended periods of time. In many cases, it’s the one time of year when families gather. But this year will differ drastically.
The CDC is urging careful consideration of holiday plans, and we are seeing increasing media coverage around holiday travel.
As we approach the holiday season, we look forward most to the time we spend with our family and friends. We make plans and anticipate the joy that we will experience through our time together. We make lists, and shop to our heart’s content. Most of us find “magic” in the season, and our hearts open wide to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
This is a call to each and every one of you, please, do something over this holiday season to help a senior who may be all but forgotten.
Imagine waking up alone on Christmas morning, with no one to share in the joy of the holiday with you. Imagine getting dressed the way you always do, having breakfast the way you always do, and watching TV as you always do—nothing special about this day, no grandchildren squealing with delight as they tear open packages under the tree, no family dinner to look forward to later.
That is the scenario faced by tens of thousands of seniors who have no living family members or whose relatives who live far away and can’t visit at Christmastime. These seniors may come from a variety of faiths or backgrounds, but what they have in common is an estrangement from the holiday season, their faith traditions and all the seasonal merriment.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, as many as half of all long-term care residents have no living relations. Of those who do have family, around 60 percent of them never receive a visitor.
If that statistic makes you feel sad, consider it may be just the tip of the iceberg. It’s possible a similar number of seniors who reside at home or outside a care facility also lack regular visitors, either because they have no relatives or because their families are disengaged.
As many as 60% of nursing home residents have no regular visitors. In times past, seniors were part of an extended family, with children or grandchildren nearby, who would assist them in their later years. But with families living all over the globe, there is often not a relative close by, or more often, one who is willing to take on the burden of an aging parent. Many older people express a desire to remain independent for as long as possible so that they can continue with their daily living patterns, and retain their privacy and dignity. But the ravages of aging often prevent them from being well enough to live alone.”
For Those Lucky Enough To Get Together With Their Elders
As you’re visiting aging parents or loved ones this holiday season, be sure to look for warning signs that they may need some extra help. A holiday visit may be a rare opportunity to observe a senior in-person, so it’s important to pay close attention to their physical and mental health and their living situation. As you’re visiting aging parents or loved ones this holiday season, be sure to look for warning signs that they may need some extra help. A holiday visit may be a rare opportunity to observe a senior in-person, so it’s important to pay close attention to their physical and mental health and their living situation.
- Changes in Balance and Mobility
Pay close attention to the way your loved one moves and how they walk. A reluctance to walk, changes in gait or obvious pain during movement can be a sign of joint, muscle or neurological problems. If your loved one is unsteady on their feet, they may be at risk of falling, which can cause severe injury or worse. If you notice changes in their mobility and coordination, make an appointment with their doctor to discuss options to keep them safe and mobile, such as pain management, physical therapy and mobility aids.
- Weight Loss
One of the most obvious signs of bad health, both physical and mental, is weight loss. Possible causes of noticeable weight loss could be cancer, depression or dementia. Certain medications and aging in general can also change the way food tastes and/or result in a loss of appetite. If weight loss is evident, talk to your loved one about your concerns and schedule a doctor’s appointment to address the issue.
- Emotional Well-Being
Keep an eye out for changes in your loved one’s moods and behavior. You can’t always gauge someone’s emotional state over the telephone, even if you speak to them every day. Look for signs of depression and anxiety, including withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in hobbies, and changes in basic home maintenance and personal hygiene. The latter can be an indicator of dementia or other physical ailments like dehydration, which often happens to elders in the winter months and can be serious. If you notice sudden odd behavior in your loved one, such as confusion or agitation, be sure to seek medical attention. These are common symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI), which is prevalent in seniors and easily resolved with antibiotics.
- Home Environment
Attention must also be paid to a senior’s surroundings. For instance, if your loved one has always been a stickler for neatness and paying bills promptly, but you discover excess clutter and piles of unopened mail while visiting, it indicates a problem. Take a walk-through of their home while you’re visiting to see if they are keeping their house to the usual standards. Be aware that sometimes the signs of trouble are a bit subtler. Scorched cookware could indicate that your loved one forgets food on the stove or in the oven, and an overflowing hamper could mean they don’t have the strength and/or desire to do laundry. Check the expiration dates on their medications and try to determine if they’re taking any prescribed medications appropriately. You know your loved one and their habits best, so go with your gut if something seems off.
While you may want to keep things light during the holiday season, take this opportunity to address any red flags that you observe. Unfortunately, age-related decline can happen quickly, and in many cases, seniors are skilled at concealing new and worsening problems. Collect any necessary information while you are visiting to avoid added frustration in the event of a crisis down the road.
My Elder wishes all the very best Holiday Season.