Many families live apart, which means that a significant number of family caregivers rely on telephone conversations and check-ins by other closer-living relatives and friends. The holidays are often the only opportunity to observe a senior loved one in person, so it is important to pay close attention to their physical and mental health and living situation. It is also a great opportunity to be certain they have current estate planning documents in place, and that you know where they are located in case of need. You may also want to learn the specifics on their medical providers, legal and financial professionals, and finances so in time of need you will be prepared to be their best advocate. While you may want to keep things light, do not miss this opportunity to address any red flags and collect necessary information to avoid confusion in the event of a crisis later.

Age-related decline can happen quickly, and in many cases, seniors are skilled at concealing or playing down new and worsening problems. Here are just 4 warning signs:

  1. Home Environment – A change in the senior’s surroundings can provide many clues as to how they are doing. For instance, a prior stickler for neatness and highly organized loved one that is now surrounded by excess clutter and piles of unopened mail may indicate cognitive problems, spoiled or no food in the refrigerator and scorched pots and pans may mean they are having trouble meeting their nutritional needs, stock piles of expired prescription and over-the counter medications may mean they are not taking medications as prescribed, and an overflowing hamper and dirty bathroom may mean they lack strength to do housework. It may be time to discuss if they need more help at home to keep them safe.
  2. Weight loss– One of the obvious signs of physical or mental ill health is weight loss. If weight loss is evident, you should talk to your loved one about your concern and schedule a doctor’s appointment as causes of weight loss can range from cancer, dementia to depression, or medication. For seniors living alone, shopping for and preparing nutritious meals and clean up may simply take too much energy.
  3. Changes in Balance and Mobility– A reluctance to walk, changes in gait or pain can be a sign of neurological, joint or muscle problems. If a loved one is unsteady, they may be a fall risk which can cause serious injury and complications in seniors. You should schedule an appointment with their physician to discuss causes and options to keep them safe and mobile, such as physical therapy and mobility aids. You should also consider making the home safer by removing tripping hazards, like rugs, and putting in grab bars in bathrooms.
  4. Emotional Wellbeing. Changes such as withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in hobbies may signal depression which is common but often untreated among seniors. Changes in basic home maintenance and personal hygiene can also be an indicator of dementia or other physical ailments like dehydration. Sudden odd behavior, such as disorientation or agitation, can be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Your holiday visit to-do list should include three categories: medical, legal and financial. As our gift to you, you can use our Private Information Guide to collect and marshal all necessary information.  Even if your senior loved one does not want to share this information with you just yet, if they complete the Guide and keep it with their estate planning documents you and the family will have valuable information at time of need. Email info@bivenslaw.com to request a FREE Private Information Guide and let us know how many Guides you need (one per person) and provide a mailing address. You can also ask to schedule a complimentary one-hour estate planning “check-up” consultation.