Whether you’re heading over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, or flying in on a jet plane, there’s no place like home for the holidays. As you visit older relatives you may not see very often, most importantly, enjoy each other’s company when you get together. But also take advantage of family time to observe your older loved ones’ home, safety, health, finances and support system.
Here are some tips about what to ask about and look for:
Home — Does it meet their needs for safety and quality of life?
- Familiarize yourself with AARP’s home checklists before your visit so you have a good idea of what to look for, such as potential safety hazards, including loose throw rugs, clutter or fire hazards.
- Could simple modifications to the home, such as lever door or faucet handles, a ramp or handrails, a comfort height toilet, grab bars or a walk-in shower be easier and more convenient?
Getting Around — Are they able to get where they need to go safely when they need to get there?
- If they are still driving, ride along and observe. Are they having close calls? Are there dents or dings on the car or garage? Any warnings or tickets? If you see potential problems, it might be time to have a talk about driving.
- Suggest a driver’s safety course or contact your local Area Agency on Aging to find out about alternative community transportation options if they decide to hang up the keys.
Health — Are they keeping up with their health needs and medications?
- Ask about their current health conditions. Think about creating a medical history you can access in case of emergency.
- Is there a list of all current medications? Has a pharmacist checked for side effects and drug interactions? Are they having any problems managing or taking their medications? Would a pill organizer or reminder be helpful? Do they use their insurance mail order program for auto-refills?
- Are they eating nutritious meals regularly? Getting exercise?
- Is depression or isolation a problem?
Finances — Are they managing?
- Is all of their financial information organized?
- Is unopened mail stacking up? Are there late notices? Are there bills they can’t pay?
- Can you help organize their finances and paperwork to make it easier?
Support System — Who do they depend on?
- Are there nearby family or friends they can rely on for help in an emergency?
- Do they have help with yard work or household chores?
- Are they isolated or do they get plenty of socialization?
If you see any red flags in these or other areas, schedule another visit, phone call or video chat to address them soon. Be clear that you are not trying to take over their lives or make decisions for your loved ones — you want to support them so they can be as independent as possible for as long as possible. That’s the best goal for all of you.