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By MONICA RUEHLING
The holiday season tends to bring out the best and the worst in people. The best is the obvious holiday spirit, wishes of happiness and blessings and the time of togetherness and fellowship. But the same holiday season also may showcase not-so-noticeable declining physical and mental health in older family members and loved ones.
For some family members, the holiday season may be the first time in a long period of time to actually spend some time together with older relatives. Even if regular contact has been kept up through telephone conversations, mail, or interaction with neighbors or other family members, actually spending some time together may be quite revealing about a brewing situation.
According to a recent study conducted by the National Alliance of Caregiving, in collaboration with AARP, 15 percent of the estimated 34 million Americans who provide care to older family members live an hour or more away from their relative.
Absence, whether for a few weeks, months or years, allows someone to view an aging family member’s situation in a whole new way. Obvious changes in health and safety can prompt attention and action that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.
These are the major areas of concern; knowing a relative’s history and personality can help family members decide if a course of action needs to be taken. If action must be taken and while other family members are able to help support the issue, initiate a heart-to-heart conversation with the older relative. Address the concerns noticed during the visit and measures to make the situation better. Suggest an appointment for a physical with their family doctor; ask if home health could assist a couple of times a week. Maybe the need is for someone to assist with paying the bills or doing laundry and housework.
The holiday season may be the perfect time to begin compiling a to-do list with your older relative after assessing their needs during the visits. Identify and implement assistance from other family members, neighbors or community resources if needed. Having more plans and systems in place may help alleviate unnecessary stress for all of the family during the holiday season and for upcoming visits.
Monica Ruehling is family caregiver program coordinator for the Lincoln Trail Area Development District Agency on Aging. She can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 769-2393.