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Reyes: Be sure to check in with aging loved ones during your holiday visits

photo of holiday visit tips commentary author
Erica Reyes (above) is a registered nurse and serves as the director of health & wellness programs for Foundation for Senior Living. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
By Erica Reyes | Point of View

Tis’ the season for holiday travel and family gatherings.

According to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 Report, 11% of family caregivers are considered “long-distance,” meaning they provide physical, emotional, social and financial assistance to aging loved ones who live one or more hours away. For these families in particular, this time of year may be one of the few opportunities to trade telephone check-ins for an in-person visit.

FSL (Foundation for Senior Living) is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in Arizona, actively improving the lives of adults and their caregivers for more than 40 years.

Here are four signs to watch for that your loved one may be struggling, and suggested questions for starting a deeper conversation:

Unusual behavior or simply “not themselves”

Check that your loved one is in good spirits. Are they experiencing excessive sadness, crying, moodiness, or having trouble sleeping? If the answer is yes, it could be a sign they’re experiencing physical or mental health problems.

If you haven’t seen your loved one in a significant amount of time, it may be hard to distinguish changes in their personality or typical behavior. If that’s the case, check in with friends or neighbors who interact with your loved one in-person on a more regular basis. Asking “How are you?” is a simple but effective way to open communication.

Change in appearance or personal care

Unintended weight gain or loss can signal serious medical problems or may be a sign of mobility issues in older adults. Is your loved one able to shower and bathe on their own? Keep an eye out for signs of poor hygiene and an unkempt appearance as those may indicate he or she needs more help caring for themselves. Simply asking, “What can I do to help you?” can go a long way in assessing what your loved one needs.

Signs of isolation or depression

Keep an eye out for changes in routine. If your loved one stops attending events or going places they normally would (ex. church, the senior center, visiting friends), or seems to have little interest in leaving the house or hobbies, it may be time to dig deeper. Asking questions like, “What’s new?” Or “What have you been up to lately” can be a great conversation starter. Express an interest in their friends or ask, “What’s something that you are looking forward to in the upcoming weeks?”

Difficulty maintaining or managing the home

Is there a large amount of unopened mail, an overgrown lawn or piles of unfolded or dirty laundry around their living space? Do lights or fire detector batteries need to be replaced? Is there ample food stored in the refrigerator or pantry? If you notice any of these things it could signal your loved one is lacking the energy or ability to keep the house in order. Ask questions like, “Are there any projects that you’re working on?” Or “What has been your favorite thing to eat or cook lately?”

FSL works with Arizonans aged 3 to 103 through a variety of home- and community-based services, including adult day health, home care and home health care services.

Editor’s Note: Erica Reyes is a registered nurse and serves as the director of health & wellness programs for FSL, a nonprofit dedicated to making Arizona a safe place to age.

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