Five things to look for during holiday visits with aging loved ones

‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations and family gatherings.  These gatherings offer the opportunity to surreptitiously keep an eye out for noticeable changes in behavior and living conditions of aging loved ones.   It is important to be alert to changes because these may reveal health needs and care challenges that require intervention.  Here are five signs to look for:

  1. Partners covering for each other. Take note if one partner is constantly finishing the other’s sentences, correcting their recollection of events or hovering around them and helping with menial tasks.  Such behavior can be an effort to mask a partner’s declining mental or physical abilities.  If you suspect that to be the case, then subtly inquire how long it has been since they saw their doctor.  You might recommend that they see a doctor if they are having a hard time hearing, remembering or are appearing to be more anxious or depressed.
  2. Changes in appearance. Noticeable changes in weight (gain or loss), poor hygiene and disheveled dress can signal physical or mental issues.  These could include medical conditions and emotional problems such as depression.  Weight loss could be the result of difficulties performing the physical tasks of cooking and eating, such as handling kitchen tools and grocery shopping; reduced thinking ability that causes them to forget how to prepare or eat meals; or not taking medications properly.
  3. Difficulty getting around. Monitor your aging loved one’s mobility. Are they moving slower than last year’s holiday gathering? Do they appear to experience pain as they move? If you notice any changes, see if your loved one has discussed their symptoms with a doctor. Also determine if your aging loved one is still capable of navigating and driving for appointments and errands. Discuss alternative transportation options if necessary.
  4. Change in living conditions. Is your loved one carrying out everyday tasks to maintain their home? Check the refrigerator and make sure old food is not piling up or check to see if the garbage has been taken out. Ask your aging loved one if there is anything you can do to help make it easier for them to live in their home. Discuss the option of in-home care to help carry out some of these tasks.
  5. Money Mismanagement. Look for signs about how well your loved one is managing their finances.  Are there old, unopened bills lying round? Is the mail unsorted and piling up?  Are there collection notices?  Unpaid bills and collection notices can be early signs of memory problems. Also, be alert to any unusual purchases, recent home repairs, “You’re a winner!” lottery notices, and mail from foreign countries as senior citizens are often a target of scams and mail fraud.

As your family gathers for holiday celebrations, use the time together to make sure your aging loved ones are properly managing their lives. If you observe anything that causes you concern, follow-up on your observation after the celebrations are over. Consider comparing notes with other family members before starting a discussion with the aging loved one. An elder law attorney should be consulted if you think your concerns require intervention.

Gene Richards_8x10@300Norman E. Richards (Gene) is an attorney at the law firm of Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, P.L.C. where he focuses his practice on estate planning and elder law.  He assists clients with the development of customized estate plans to address their specific needs, including family owned businesses, senior adults concerned about long term care needs, and special needs trusts for children with special needs.  He may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or

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