Holidays a time for celebration with older relatives, friends and to recognize their needs

Make visits special, but take time to assess older loved ones’ well-being

November 16, 2015

Time spent celebrating the holidays with older friends and relatives is ideal for spotting signs of poor health, memory problems, financial difficulties and other issues that should be addressed before they get worse. For many of us, the holidays are the only time of year we have the opportunity to visit with older loved ones, whether they live in town or in another state.

“Make your holiday visits and time spent together as special as ever, but keep your eyes open and notice what’s changed since your last visit,” said Dr. Lisa Gibbs, director of UC Irvine Health Senior Health Services, the UC Irvine School of Medicine's Program in Geriatrics and the Center of Excellence in Elder Abuse and Neglect. “When it comes to elderly relatives, the holidays are not only a time of celebration, but also a time of realization of the current condition of their home, health and finances.”

Whether they live alone or are being cared for by others, older adults are among the most vulnerable members of our community. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, each year, the number of Americans aged 65 or older who have been injured, exploited or mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection is close to 5 million. In 75 to 90 percent of those cases, the abuse is committed by a family member.

“There is potential for self-neglect or abuse that can become an issue if the early warning signs are not recognized,” Gibbs said. “If you are worried about an older loved one, spend time with them in private and encourage open communication. It will be easier for them to share concerns with someone they trust.”

Gibbs and her colleagues at the Center of Excellence in Elder Abuse and Neglect have compiled a checklist to help families prevent elder abuse and neglect and offer their older loved ones a healthy and safe New Year:

  • Check to see if a loved ones need help with housekeeping or personal care. Older adults may neglect their personal hygiene, laundry and meal preparations. If they live alone, they may suffer from self-neglect or malnutrition.
  • Inquire about finances and correspondence. Make sure mail is received regularly and bills are being paid on time. Watch for recent changes in banking habits or spending patterns.
  • Check on medical appointments and medications. Older adults need routine check-ups to maintain overall wellness. Don’t ignore problems with eyesight, hearing, teeth or digestion.
  • Make sure you visit long enough to notice signs of depression or loneliness. Allow loved ones time to express anxieties.
  • Allow enough time to accomplish tasks, which may include a visit to the local aging service or organization or doctor for a full medical evaluation.
  • Introduce yourself to responsible neighbors and friends. Give them your address and phone numbers in case of an emergency.
  • If your elderly loved one lives with someone or is dependent on that person for care, reexamine that person’s fitness to be a caregiver. Be sure the caregiver is not financially dependent on the older person.
  • Look for unexplained bruises, cuts or bedsores (pressure sores from lying in one place too long). The presence of any of these could indicate abuse or neglect.

“Your elderly relatives may not be aware of their needs or may be in denial,” Gibbs said. “For many seniors, the holidays are not a time of celebration and joy, but serve as reminders of how lonely and isolated they are, missing friends who have passed on, struggling to navigate in bad weather and frustrated at their inability to fully participate in family get-togethers. They might be reluctant to accept help, but your support is crucial to making sure they are getting the attention and assistance they need.”

If you suspect your older loved one is at risk, call your local Adult Protective Service or Office on Aging or got to www.centeronelderabuse.org for more information. 

To make an appointment with a UC Irvine Health geriatric specialist at our SeniorHealth Center, call 714-456-7007.

UC Irvine Health comprises the clinical, medical education and research enterprises of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UC Irvine Health at physician offices throughout Orange County and at its main campus, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., a 411-bed acute care hospital that provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation. U.S. News & World Report has listed it among America’s Best Hospitals for 15 consecutive years. UC Irvine Medical Center is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program, Level I trauma center and Level II pediatric trauma center, and is the primary teaching hospital for UC Irvine School of Medicine. UC Irvine Health serves a region of more than 3 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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