“Can you Pass the Peas, Please?” and Other Questions to Ask Your Loved Ones This Holiday Season


By Dr. Macie Smith

The holiday season is upon us, and if you’re like me, I’m sure you’re looking forward to in-person celebrations and gatherings. This is something to be especially thankful for after two years of social distancing.

All this together time is great for re-connecting as well as getting up to speed with how your aging loved ones are faring. It’s also an opportunity to take note of any concerning physical or cognitive declines. 

Of course, our older family members might not come right out and tell us about any decline in health as they fear they may lose their independence. That’s why I recommend engaging them in casual conversation that takes into consideration their feelings.  

Here are five main areas to assess: 

  1. Activities of daily living. Can they pass the peas at the dinner table? I’m somewhat joking here, but if it appears that your loved one has lost a lot of strength or dexterity that makes a simple task difficult, there may be some physical decline. Other things to inquire about could be the last time they got their hair cut. Take note of their appearance: Are their clothes clean? Do they match? Are they bathing? If it appears that they have lost some weight, ask them what they have been eating lately. This can tell you if they are having trouble with food shopping or cooking. A noticeable loss of weight is a definite cause for concern, as it could indicate an underlying health condition.
  2. The home environment.  If you are visiting their home for the holidays, check to see if the home is more cluttered than usual. This could be a sign they are having trouble keeping up with housekeeping. You can also check the refrigerator and cabinets to get a sense of how well they are eating. Additionally, take a look at the expiration dates on the medicine bottles and appropriately discard any expired medications—prescription as well as over the counter ones. Throw away any expired food items, too. 
  3. Memory. A great way to assess memory is by engaging in a conversation about current events you know this family member would typically be following. It could be the weather, sports, entertainment or politics. If they don’t elaborate on their responses to your questions, they may be protecting themselves from being “found out” that they are experiencing some memory loss. You can also ask what they did earlier in the day or a few days ago to see if they are having trouble putting together a sequence of events. 
  4. Mobility. Take note of how they move about the house. Are they grabbing onto furniture to steady themselves? Do you notice any bruising which may indicate a recent fall? Go on a walk with them to see if they tire easily or seem unbalanced. In addition, look at their car for any dings or scratches.  
  5. Social engagements. Isolation is often a gateway to depression, which can negatively impact memory or activities of daily living. Ask about friends they are in touch with either in person or on the phone, as well as any regular activities or recent outings. Are there activities they have stopped doing? Are there things they wish they could do but don’t have a companion or a ride?

If you notice any concerning changes, it’s important to act now, before a crisis presents itself. Consult with your siblings and other family members to see if they have noticed similar behaviors. If so, the next step is to make an appointment with the loved one’s primary care physician to rule out any emergent health conditions.

The good news is that the growing desire to age in place means that more and more people are turning to in-home care for that extra assistance. Whether a loved one needs a companion to help them stay active, more personal care such as assistance showering, or full-time support for a chronic condition, SYNERGY Home Care can help. 

Dr. Macie P. Smith is a licensed gerontology social worker who is focused on helping families support their aging loved ones through long-term care. Specifically, Dr. Smith educates caregivers on how to care for seniors with dementia. She is an advocate for specialized care and assists others in finding a way to provide a better quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Smith has dedicated over 22 years of her life working in gerontology and assisting families in finding personalized solutions for dementia care. For more articles by Dr. Macie Smith, go to https://synergyhomecare.com/blog/.

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