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Home for the Holidays

Coming home for the holidays is an ideal time to check-in on loved ones who might need additional in-home care resources. Whether you or someone else in your family is ultimately responsible for the task of caregiving, use this time together to look for clues that changes should be made.

Monica Heltemes, an occupational therapist and founder of, featuring activities for people with dementia, has personally observed many of the warning signs that something is amiss.

“I am a little bit of a detective,” she said. “I’m not saying people should be spied on, but there are things to look for. Memory problems, vision problems and physical problems could indicate that your loved one is failing in some way.”

Ms. Heltemes offered a list of warning signs that an elderly parent or other loved one might need help:

  1. Groceries. “Look for spoiled food or a lack of food in the pantry and refrigerator,” she said. “Is there enough food? Are the foods healthy and balanced, or just bags of chips and doughnuts? If so, that might indicate a problem.” She cautions that you should not leap to conclusions based on these clues since it could mean there are memory problems or driving problems or anything in between.
  1. Mail. Is there a large pile of mail, possibly unpaid bills? Again, Ms. Heltemes stresses that privacy should be respected. “You don’t want to invade someone’s privacy,” she said. “You also don’t want them to be too vulnerable.” She suggests that an adult child offer to review their parents’ finances or talk about how they want to help them stay in their house and live independently for as long as possible.
  1. Driving. Ms. Heltemes said that if there is a worry about driving safety, be sure to discreetly look over the car for any signs of dents or scrapes. Also, ask your loved one to be the one to drive to church or on another outing to assess their driving ability.
  1. Cleanliness. “Look at how their place is kept up,” she said. “Are they having difficulty getting around, getting up the stairs?” Sometimes just getting a cane or a walker can improve mobility around the house, and therefore their ability to tidy up. Or you might need to move furniture and rugs around to make the house more navigable for them.

Once the clues have been gathered, it’s time to talk about what they might mean.  Experts recommend that you be proactive and not sit back and wait for conditions to worsen. The Homewatch CareGivers’ “Let’s Talk” guide can navigate difficult discussions about helping a loved one.

“How you approach it depends on the cause,” Ms. Heltemes said. “Consult a doctor to find the cause—it could be medication causing them to be dizzy so they don’t want to get up and do things or it might be cognitive problems.”

2 Responses to Home for the Holidays
  1. Dr. Mike M
    January 20, 2012 | 10:54 pm

    We advise our counseling clients that Christmas and other holidays is an ideal time to check up on family members which they may be concerned with. It is a great time to sit down and talk about what is new in their life while noting any differences in mood and behavior. It also allows to see if the house is in order or not, which could be a sign of an underlying issue.

  2. Katie
    February 24, 2012 | 3:38 am

    Not sure how this works , but I needed feed back from someone. I am caring for an elderly sister who can do nothing except feed herself. This has more to do with me than her except that she doesn’t want to try to get any stronger. I have lost my job (family does not know) I’ve been on a leave of absence for 7 months taking care of her. I have 3 teens. 18, 17, and 16 and a husband. It is so much I find myself very irritable all of a sudden and very impatient with my sister. I feel like I’m in Prison, but I believe she would die If I put her in a nursing facility. The family (sisters and brothers don’t seem to understand OR do not want to be responsible for any of this “burden”. My sister has been a caregiver herself all of her life and took care of my mom for us until she died. She is diabetic (uncontrollable) and has had a history of drug use when she felt sorry for herself. She has been diabetic since she was in her 20’s. She has a heart of gold , but now seems very stubborn. She is 63 and has the appetite of any healthy eating man. She weighs about 115 pounds , has always had an extremely high metabolism. Any way I feel like I don’t want this responsibility and I’m trapped. The other older sister that cared for her was diagnosed with cancer. The family that I thought was so close, has disappeared!!! I don’t know what to do!!!!!! Thanks for listening!!!

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