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10 Warning signs your older relatives need help

Karen Hawthorne is a health and lifestyle writer and producer in Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications including Glow, Homemakers, BestHealthMag.ca and the National Post.

Tips to care for elderly relatives

With so many of us living away from our parents and grandparents, coming home for the holidays may be a frightening wakeup call when we find lethargic and forgetful elderly loved ones, a messy house and forgotten bills piling up. Here are the warning signs your older relatives are in need, and steps you can take to keep them healthy and safe.

Holiday visits are often wakeup calls

The holiday season may be one of the few times families get together and realize their elderly loves ones are deteriorating and need help. Though the realization adds stress to an already hectic and stressful time, consider it a wakeup call to take steps to turn the situation around. As a plan for this holiday, the family might gather around the kitchen table, not only for turkey and gravy, but also for a discussion on how to care for an ailing, elderly relative.

The holidays can also be the best time to take action

"The joy of the season is clouded with the realization that your relatives are suffering and can't make it alone," says Peter Ross, CEO of Senior Helpers, a national provider of in-home care for seniors. He says that thousands of Americans will come home this Christmas to deteriorating relatives who are no longer able to fully care for themselves. "This is often the best time for family members to hash out care solutions everyone agrees on," he says.

In-home care an alternative to retirement residences

Many seniors don't want to ask for help or leave their homes, although they clearly need care and support. In-house programs, such as Senior Helpers, connect professional caregivers with seniors for a range of personal and companion care services to provide a safe, healthy environment – and peace of mind for concerned relatives.

Last Christmas, Paula Peace of Atlanta and her brother realized their 87-year-old mom, Sally, needed more than a visit and a few presents under the tree. Their mom is legally blind and needed help cooking and bathing. "We saw Mom struggling and we knew the best present for her was in-home care," Peace says. "We could see Mom's deterioration right in front of us."

Peace encouraged her mom to hire an in-home caregiver from Senior Helpers for seven days a week, providing the necessary support to keep her safe living at home. Finding the solution was the best holiday gift for everyone, Peace says, "We don't have to worry or feel guilty."

10 Warning signs your family member needs help

The Council on Aging offers these warning signs that your elderly relatives need help:

  1. Poor eating habits resulting in a decrease in weight, no appetite or missed meals.
  2. Neglected hygiene: wearing dirty clothes, body odor, neglected nails and teeth.
  3. Neglected home that is not as clean or sanitary as you remember growing up.
  4. Inappropriate behavior by acting loud, quiet, paranoid or making phone calls at all hours.
  5. Changed relationship patterns that friends or neighbors have noticed.
  6. Burns or injuries resulting from weakness, forgetfulness or misuse of alcohol or meds.
  7. Decreased participation in activities such as attending the senior center, book club or church.
  8. Scorched pots and pans, showing forgetfulness for dinner cooking on the stove.
  9. Unopened mail, newspaper piles, and missed appointments.
  10. Mishandled finances such as losing money, paying bills twice or hiding money.

If you notice these signs when you visit your parents or grandparents, it is time to decide as a family the best plan for their long-term care.

Decide on an action plan to care for your relatives

Senior Helpers advises families to lay out an agenda for a family meeting to reach some kind of peaceful consensus. "It's one thing to all recognize there's a problem, but then the whole family has to agree on the solution," Ross says.

Ready to sit down and have a talk? Here is Senior Helpers' guide to family planning meetings:

  • Pick a leader. The person leading the meeting can be the elderly relative who anticipates needing care in the future. If that person already requires care, an adult child, friend or relative can lead.
  • Foster group participation. Encourage discussion and get input from everyone. Make sure everyone makes their feelings known.
  • Discuss money. Who will pay? How? If the money is coming from the elderly relative's estate, who will be executor?
  • Get a consensus. At the end of the meeting, everyone present must commit to support the plan.
  • Write it down. Good intentions are often forgotten over time and family members must have their responsibilities right in front of them.

Though discovering your elderly relatives are in duress during the holiday season can be dismaying -- holidays are supposed to be joyous times, after all -- consider the wakeup call a blessing. Now that you are aware that they are in need, you can do something about it and help ensure their health and safety as well as improve the quality of their life.

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