Thanksgiving Is a Time for Gratitude – and Sleuthing Opportunities

Portait of a big family having fun while eating Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving is a time when we gather around the table to give thanks with our families. If you have an aging loved one in your family, it is also a time to nurture your subtle but masterful Sherlock Holmes detective skills. Why? Thanksgiving starts the holiday season – a time when we gather around with our families that we may have not seen in a while. During our visit, with heightened observational skills, we may suddenly take stock and notice cognitive changes or memory issues with loved ones that we didn’t notice before. Indeed, the busiest time of the year for Aging Life Care Professionals® is over the holidays when family members reach out for advice, support and guidance as they realize that their older loved ones are beginning to have difficulties managing their affairs. So as your gather around the table with aging loved ones this Thanksgiving, it may be time to take stock. Here are some areas for you to consider exploring:

Review Finances – Are bills being paid on time? Is mail piling up unsorted? Are multiple credit cards being ordered because others are lost? Is there any evidence of your loved one being a victim of a financial scam? Are large amounts of cash being left around the home?

Assess Driving – Is the car getting dinged, damaged and not repaired? Is the driver getting lost or missing turns? For the brave of heart, you may want to take a drive with your loved one to further assess their abilities.

Observe Behaviors – Are they storing items in unusual places (e.g., keys in the refrigerator)? Are they having significant difficulty finding the right word or substituting vague words for more specific ones (e.g., “thing” instead of “ book”)? Are they repeating themselves continuously? Are they dressing inappropriately for the weather or showing signs of poor grooming? These activities can be a sign that they are not retaining old information and are having trouble processing new information. This is highly suggestive of cognitive decline.

Look at Their Calendar or Planner – Are they constantly rescheduling or missing appointments? Are there a proliferation of post-it notes and written calendar reminders all over the home?

Check the Medication Supplies – Are prescriptions being renewed appropriately? Are there multiple supplies of pills? Are expired medications clogging up the medicine cabinet? Are there too many or too little pills in the bottles?

Check the Kitchen/Bathroom – Are you noticing any burned pots/pans in the kitchen from the stove being left on? Is the refrigerator being stocked appropriately? Is rotten food being stored there for long periods of time? Have there been any reports of floods from taps not being turned off?

Check pets – Are they looking hungry, disheveled or lethargic because they are not being cared for or exercised?

Check in with Trusted Friends/Neighbors – Has your loved one begun withdrawing from social activities? Do friends or neighbors have any input on how your loved one has recently been managing their affairs? Are they getting lost in the neighborhood?

Some subtle detective work focused on these areas can alert you to early signs of cognitive impairment. Subtle is highlighted here for a reason. Being intrusive and aggressive in your efforts will put the senior on the defensive and less amenable to accepting support. Your attitude should be observational and nonjudgmental. Once you have gathered your information, reach out to trusted health care experts – your primary care practitioner, an aging life care professional or the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association about next steps. Hopefully, with early targeted intervention, your observations and actions can help stave off more serious trouble for your loved ones down the road and help them lead happier, safer and more fulfilled lives as they age.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Written by Anne Sansevero

Categories: Caregiving, Senior Health