Home for Christmas: are your loved ones coping?

This 2022 holiday season, many of us will be looking forward to spending the festive season with our loved ones once again. Freed from restrictions, many of us will make long journeys to see or stay with aging parents and relatives in their own homes.

Often these are houses and apartments we’ve known and visited for years, so we know what to expect. What we might not expect are the changes that might indicate our senior parents are not coping as well as they used to. That might be due to a range of factors – failing health, changes in mobility, and changing needs in terms of the home they live in too.

So, we’ve updated our article this year to include a variety of ways you can help spot the signs, and put into action changes to help them live longer in their own homes in comfort and safety.

Subtle changes

When you walk through the door this holiday season, if something isn’t quite as it was, take notice. This isn’t about the inevitable list of DIY/outside jobs all parents stack up for a visit by someone younger and fitter. (See, you are not alone!) This is about lifestyle and environmental changes.

  • Is the house as clean as Mom used to keep it?
  • Is there fresh food in the fridge?
  • Do Dad’s clothes look like they need a good wash?
  • Are there piles of clothes or papers on every surface?
What to look for

It’s important to be realistic about what you are seeing, and to consider the root causes. Vytality at Home founder Nicole suggests six different areas to look at:

  • Home Environment
  • Kitchen – cleanliness, tidiness, food storage
  • Changes in Personal Hygiene and Appearance
  • Cognitive Changes
  • Balance
  • Changes in Behavior

All these may be indications that your parents or relatives might need some extra help with everyday life. Christmas is the perfect opportunity to gently look around, assess what your loved ones might need. Some older parents don’t like to be “told” they need home care, so why not give them a Christmas gift of a home care visit? With a capable, cheery person helping them in their own home, your loved ones can experience for themselves the difference it makes.

Kitchen and food storage

If we discover out of date food in our parents’ kitchen, we may jump to the ‘worst case scenario’. We may assume that food is out of date in the freezer or on the kitchen shelves because they have been forgotten about them. Therefore it’s about memory loss and impaired cognitive ability. In fact, it may be due to a more straightforward issue; decreased mobility.

If seniors can’t reach up to a shelf anymore because of, say, a stiff shoulder, arthritis or balance, any tinned food on that shelf is inaccessible. It will just sit there and go out of date. The same applies to getting food from the bottom of a chest freezer, or bending down to see what’s lurking at the back of a ground level fridge.

Is cooking a chore?

Many adult children worry that their aging parents might not be eating as well as they would. Your parents may say that they just don’t eat ss much or feel hungry. Whilst this may be so, there may be other underlying causes, including physical limitations.

  • If limited mobility means they can’t reach into the bottom or the back of the freezer, they are not going to eat those tasty ready meals you kindly bought last time you visited.
  • If they can’t lift large bags of shopping anymore, they’ll shop in smaller batches so they can carry them more easily. So the fridge may contain less food that it did when you lived at home.
  • They may not want to stand at a stove for long periods of time making complicated dishes, and rely more on pre-prepared meals which take a lot less preparation time.
  • If they are living on their own, cooking may become one chore too many and they might skip meals. This reduces their nutritional intake and may result in weight loss and an unbalanced diet.

Again, this is where home care services can help. Our team here at Vytality at Home are more than happy to help with preparing meals. Most of our clients love this service, as it gives them a break from cooking and the washing up! Our caregivers can also help with ordering groceries, and making sure that what is delivered is put away such that it’s easy to reach and use.

We also have trusted building and repairs trade Partners who can help adapt your loved one’s home to suit their changing needs, from installing grab bars and ramps to remodelling bathrooms and kitchen modifications.

Balance, mobility and lifestyle

You can look for other signs of decreased mobility too:

  • Items may be laid down on easily accessible surfaces such as tables, chairs and furniture because bending down to the floor or putting it back in the cupboard is awkward.
  • Laundry may pile up because it is too heavy to lift a full load, and it has to be done in smaller batches, not because it’s been forgotten about.
  • Clothes may slip off hangers in wardrobes and be tricky to retrieve, so are simply not worn.
  • Shopping lists and telephone numbers may be written on pieces of paper around the house because it’s too difficult or too much effort to carry the address book AND the phone AND the notepad from one room to another. (Speed dial numbers for family and friends on a phone can be a genuine help with this.)
Managing paperwork

If you’re finding piles of correspondence and bills, this will need addressing. If one parent always paid the bills, did the tax returns and managed the investments can’t do that anymore, the other parent may be suddenly responsible for it all. That might worry them a lot, especially as many financial institutions are moving towards apps and online services, which some seniors will struggle with.

Check they are OK with the admin side of life, and if not, get an LPA (link) so you can help when required. You might also introduce a set location where letters and bills are filed after being dealt with, such as a basket or box, so the paper trail is there should you need it.

Think mobility

So if you’re visiting loved ones this Christmas, keep your eyes open and think – mobility. If they are having difficulties with mobility and balance, check if they are receiving medical help. If not, make sure they visit their family physician as soon as possible to be checked out and receive the help and support that is available. The same applies if you are concerned about their behaviour or cognitive ability.

Independent living in your own home

Remember, decreasing mobility or less cognitive ability does not mean the end to independent living or living at home. Aging in Place is a government priority to help seniors live in their own homes for longer. As their own website says:

“Aging in place means having the health and social supports and services you need to live safely and independently in your home or your community for as long as you wish and are able.”

Homecare is a central pillar of Aging in Place planning. So perhaps the best gift you can give your senior relatives this Christmas is help taking those first steps towards an Aging in Place plan with Vytality at Home.

Call us at 403 476 3680 or a free, no obligation home consultation visit, where we can discuss your concerns and requirements, and discuss a home care plan tailor-made for your loved ones.

539, 5940 Macleod Trail SWCalgary, AB