Christmas with the Elderly

Christmas is a particularly hard time for anyone who does not have a family or significant other with whom to celebrate. It feels like the whole world is with someone and, when you are not, that sense of isolation can be excruciatingly painful. Not having any plans for the holiday season and knowing you will be seeing the new year in alone just adds to that.

In the UK, many elderly people live alone. The number is substantially higher for the elderly (estimated by recent figures from Age UK as being 3.5 million which means that only two-thirds of those in that bracket live with someone.) And it’s not just a case of just not living with someone; it’s so much more. The study also found that over a million people in this age bracket can actually go for an entire month without speaking to anyone.

This means it is particularly important to ensure the elderly are getting some kind of interaction. Not just for Christmas (although holidays are traditionally the most depressing times for those who are alone) but throughout the year, also to ensure that they are not deteriorating. Sometimes there are just very minor problems or small changes in behavior that can be indicative of early warning signs of potentially major health issues so loved ones must make sure they do not miss these.

Today, thanks to Howz (an independent living monitor system) a checklist of 12 key signs has been compiled by a family doctor, nurse, occupational therapist and physiotherapist who have been involved with the older population who live alone. This Christmas people are being urged to check this list when visiting the elderly. According to one member of the team, physiotherapist Louise Rogerson, The challenge many of us face is how to keep an eye on vulnerable members of our family when we can’t always be there ourselves. When you do see your relative, look for the tell-tale signs that indicate whether they are looking after themselves, or struggling to cope, or if they are feeling under the weather but don’t want to worry their family. The key to all this is predicting and preventing, so stopping a minor condition getting far worse.”

The 12 signs to look out for at Christmas are

  1. Weight loss (see this by how the clothes are fitting)
  2. Appetite changes (are they able to enjoy Christmas dinner) could be a sign of problematic teeth
  3. General participation in Christmas festivities (if this is diminished it could be due to eyesight/mobility issues)
  4. How are they managing stairs/moving in and out of a chair? (problems with this could be due to diminished strength or balance issues. Act early to prevent a fall)
  5. Forgetfulness or decreased regular family phone calls (could be caused by a variety of memory-related issues)
  6. Have they spoken about recent activities in which they’ve engaged? (If not this could be due to decreased outings maybe because they are finding it more challenging to leave the house)
  7. How is their pantry stocked? (If not as well as it should be with wholesome food this could be due to difficulties getting to the store)
  8. Additional complaints of pains/discomfort? (Take time to review their medication with a family doctor or pharmacist)
  9. Changes in their daily routine such as more/less sleep or dietary changes (routine changes could be indicative of a problem).
  10. Spike in anxiety levels? Less conversational participation? (this may be due to hearing/sight difficulties)
  11. Did they decorate for Christmas? (Check into the cause of any changes in the house because it could be indicative of physical/psychological issues that need to be addressed).
  12. Overtiredness (it’s common for the elderly to sleep less but with over-tiredness there is the increased likelihood of falls so it’s best to make sure there is good lighting at night time).

Ultimately it should be realized that any kind of change (or deterioration) can occur over such a long period of time that it is difficult to realize it. Or one just assumes that it is just a natural part of aging and need not be addressed. This is not true and early identification of these issues provides a greater opportunity for a positive outcome to occur.