The holiday season can be one of the few times families get together every year and sometimes they 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 for turkey and treats and a big talk that maps out a care plan for aging relatives.
Senior Helpers, one of the largest in-home senior care companies, created a list of 10 Holiday Warning Signs Seniors Need Help.
"This Thanksgiving and Christmas, thousands of adult children will be shocked to come home to elderly relatives who are lethargic and forgetful," said Peter Ross, Senior Helpers founder and CEO in a press release. "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. "This is the time to map out a care plan for aging relatives, which should include hiring caregivers who can help ease the burden for families."
Two years ago at Christmas, Truly Bracken and her brother came home to Charlotte, N.C., and realized their 83-year-old mother, Margaret, shouldn't be staying home alone anymore. On a normal stroll outside during the visit, Margaret lost her balance and fell.
Top 10 signs elders 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 not as clean or sanitary as usual.
Inappropriate behavior such as acting loud, quiet, paranoid or making phone calls at all hours.
Changed relationship patterns friends or neighbors have noticed.
Burns or injuries resulting from weakness, forgetfulness or misuse of alcohol or medications.
Decreased participation in normal activities such as attending the senior center, book club, or church.
Scorched pots and pans showing forgetfulness for dinner cooking on the stove.
Unopened mail, newspaper piles and missed appointments.
Mishandled finances such as losing money, paying bills twice or hiding money.
SOURCE: Senior Helpers
"Mother didn't trip on anything. She just lost her balance and took a bad fall," said Bracken. "Luckily she didn't break any bones, but seeing her fall prompted a family discussion about mother's care."
Bracken and her brother both live far away, so they brought in a Senior Helpers caregiver to stay with their mom all day, seven days a week.
"It's a huge relief knowing the caregivers are with mother because they're so knowledgeable and caring," Bracken said. "Mother feels like they're friends."
"Conflict often surfaces when family members have to agree on a solution, especially when the senior has dementia or Alzheimer's and family members don't know how to handle it," Ross said.
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.
Encourage discussion and get input from everyone. 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?
At the end of the meeting, everyone present must commit to support the plan.
Write it down. Good intentions are often forgotten over time and family members must have their responsibilities right in front of them.