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Holidays a good time to check out aging loved ones

Updated: December 19, 2012 1:16PM

The holiday season may be one of the few times families get together and realize their elderly loved ones are in deep trouble and need immediate help.

Adult children who don’t live nearby often come home to holiday heartbreak with deteriorating relatives they aren’t prepared to handle. So this holiday, the family might gather around the kitchen table —not only for turkey and treats, but also for a talk — that maps out a plan to care for aging relatives.

“This Thanksgiving and Christmas, thousands of adult children will be shocked to come home to elderly relatives who are lethargic and forgetful. They’ll see a messy house, bills piling up, the joy of the season clouded with the realization that elderly relatives are struggling and can’t make it alone,” said Peter Ross, CEO of Senior Helpers, one of the largest companies that provides senior caregivers. “This is the time to map out a care plan for aging relatives and that plan should include hiring caregivers who can help ease the burden for families.”

The Council on Aging has suggested these “10 warning signs senior loved ones need help”:

Poor eating habits resulting in weight loss, no appetite or missed meals.

Neglected hygiene — wearing dirty clothes, body odor, neglected nails and teeth.

Neglected home — it’s not as clean or sanitary as you remember growing up.

Inappropriate behavior — acting loud, quiet, paranoid or making phone calls at all hours.

Changed relationship patterns that friends or neighbors have noticed.

Burns or injuries resulting from weakness, forgetfulness, or misuse of alcohol or medications.

Decreased participation in activities such as attending the senior center, book club or church.

Scorched pots and pans showing forgetfulness.

Unopened mail, newspaper piles, missed appointments.

Mishandled finances such as losing money, paying bills twice or hiding money.

Handling ‘the talk’

“When family members get together, it’s great to finally recognize and see firsthand that their elderly loved ones may have a problem,” Ross said. “But conflict often surfaces when family members have to agree on a solution.”

He gave these tips for handling such a meeting:

The person leading the meeting can be the elderly relative who anticipates needing care in the future. If that person already needs care, an adult child, friend or relative can lead.

Make sure everyone makes their feelings known.

Discuss money. Who will pay? How? If the money is coming from the elderly relative’s estate, who will be the executor?

Write it down. Good intentions are often forgotten over time and family members must have their responsibilities right in front of them.

To learn more about how to care for a senior loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s through the Senior Gems program, visit

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