Submitted by the Baylor College of Medicine
The holidays are meant to bring joy, but for the elderly, they often cause emotional stress and may even bring health issues to light. An expert at Baylor College of Medicine gives tips on signs and symptoms to look for when traveling with or visiting an elder adult.
Safe travel advice
“Simply traveling long distance to visit relatives can become increasingly stressful as individuals age,” said Dr. Angela Catic, assistant professor in the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor.
During their travel it is important for family members to ensure that elders have their medications and assistive devices easily available. They should monitor loved ones for signs of increasing fatigue, difficulty walking or that they are too warm or cool. If traveling by plane, elders should be encouraged to walk about the plane one time per hour, if they are able, or at least pump their legs while sitting in their seat.
Health checks at the holidays
If family members do not see elders on a regular basis, getting together during the holidays is a practical time to check on their health and assess if their living conditions highlight any concerns. This may include increasing forgetfulness, difficulty taking medications appropriately, lack of balance or physical issues such as appearing more short of breath.
In addition, a home not being as clean or tidy as normal may indicate issues with cognition or a lack of physical ability to maintain a past level of cleanliness. If elders are not wearing clean clothing or grooming to past standards, children should investigate if it is because they are physically unable to do so or if cognitive issues are playing a role.
Loved ones should be aware of signs of anxiety or depression in elders including becoming withdrawn, seeming more anxious or agitated than baseline and tearfulness. If children notice these symptoms, they should discuss them with the elder and encourage evaluation by a medical provider.
“Elders with dementia are particularly vulnerable during the holiday season,” Catic said. “As dementia progresses, change in routine can be very difficult and may result in increased confusion and behavioral issues.”
Some good practices for families include:
* Maintain the elders’ routine as much as possible
* Minimize overly noisy or boisterous gatherings
* Simplify gift giving and elaborate meals
* Be sure that the elder has plenty of time to rest.
With permission from the elder, it is often helpful for family members to discuss concerns with the elder and their home health providers or physician. To make this holiday season less stressful, family members are encouraged to assist elders with house cleaning, car service for travel, cooking meals and help them with their shopping.