Holiday Check on Senior Safety

Posted on November 18, 2012

When visiting with elder loved ones during the holiday season take a critical look at how they are managing day-to-day living.  Functional changes may occur subtly and often family members don’t notice until a problem surfaces such as not paying bills or a significant decline in home maintenance.   The holiday season is a perfect time to check on the safety and well being of your elderly relatives.  Here are 5 important areas to assess:

1) Money problems: Are elders having difficulty managing their money, falling behind on bill payments, mismanaging finances? Recent research shows that one of the first signs of early dementia is an inability to understand money and manage finances. Take some time to have a conversation with seniors about money management and inquire about any problems or concerns.

2) Alcohol use: Are seniors drinking heavily?  Elders are more sensitive to the negative effects of alcohol than their younger counterparts. For example, as few as two alcoholic beverages can slow reaction times in older drinkers. The combination of alcohol and prescription drugs is particularly dangerous in elders causing bleeding, liver damage and contributing to falls. During the holidays, observe the pattern and amount of alcohol used by your senior loved ones.

3) Medication management: Seniors typically take several prescription medications. Too often, the medications are not taken as prescribed for many reasons such as poor vision leading to difficulty reading the directions, forgetfulness or lack of understanding about the purpose of the medication. Review medications with your senior loved ones; inquire about side effects, discuss prescription directions and check to see if refills are needed. Also, health care providers may not regularly review the continuing need for medications. Check with seniors’ medical care providers about the usefulness of each medication.

4) Fall prevention: Assess the safety of your loved one’s home during the holidays. For example, check for handrails on stairways, cracked or broken steps, proper lighting, and uneven floor surfaces.  Most falls are preventable.

5) Putting affairs in order: Take some time when the family is together during the holidays to be certain that wills are updated, legal papers are organized and stored in a safe place. It is important to understand elders’ wishes and care preferences before a medical crisis occurs.  Initiate a conversation about “living wills” and choices for health care power of attorney.  Assist loved ones with completing these documents correctly and ensure that all medical providers have copies of the advance directives.