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Going home for the holidays? Take some time to check on elders

I have found over my many years working in the senior living industry that holiday visits are often a wake-up call for adult children who realize their parent isn’t doing all that well living alone.

Although it can be tough facing the reality of elderly relatives growing more frail or forgetful since than the last time you visited, it’s a great opportunity to check on how they are really doing and to make a change for the better. Look for these signs to determine whether it’s time to suggest a move to a more supportive living arrangement.

• Check the mail: The mail offers clues to how your parent is managing money, a common warning sign of cognitive trouble. Look for: snowdrifts of mail, unopened bills, letters from banks or creditors, thank-you messages from charities. • Give a hug: Clues aren’t always visible from a distance. You might learn more from a hug. Look for: obvious weight loss or gain, increased frailty, changes in appearance.

• Check the medicine cabinet: Individuals over 65 take an average of 14 prescriptions a year and those over 80 are prescribed 19 different medications yearly. That can be lot to keep track of! Medication errors are among the leading causes of hospitalization in older adults. Look for: Expired, discontinued or duplicate prescription bottles.

• Inspect the kitchen: Because people spend much time here, this room is especially revealing. Look for: expired perishables, multiples of the same item, a freezer full of frozen dinners, broken appliances, signs of past fire.

• Walk around the house and yard: Lack of maintenance may mean that your parent isn’t faring well at home alone. Look for: clutter, lax housekeeping, grimy bathrooms, signs of neglect, mail piled up in the mail box.

• Observe your parent’s social life: Social circles can shrink with age, which can have health and safety implications. Look for signs of isolation: if your parent has cut back on interests, spends days without leaving the house, and doesn’t have a group of friends to socialize with.

• Take a drive: Ask your parent to take you out for a spin. Look for: dents, signs of being easily distracted, impaired driving, dashboard warning lights.

Encouraging a parent to move to senior housing can be stressful for all concerned. Keep in mind that Assisted Living does not mean a loss of independence. Quite the contrary! Assisted Living is designed to maximize autonomy within an environment that provides seniors with choices, celebrates their individuality and allows them to thrive. Your mom or dad will enjoy a safe, comfortable, social lifestyle and you’ll spend less time worrying and more time enjoying your times together as you visit.

Reach out to me at Standish Village in the Lower Mills or Lindsay Willis, Executive Director of our sister community Compass on the Bay in South Boston, with any questions about assisted living. We are happy to guide you through the research process, help sort out financial issues, and provide the information you need so that you can make the best decision for your family.

J.R. Sousa is the Executive Director of Standish Village, an assisted living community in Lower Mills.