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VA Maryland Health Care System

 

Holiday Survival Tips

Family visiting an elderly Veteran.

"While everyone is gathered together may be a good time to initiate a conversation with parents and other family members about health and financial concerns. Often times, seniors are unaware of the changes within themselves or they prefer not to address the issues if there is something amiss," says Dr. Olszyk, deputy chief of staff for the VA Maryland Health Care System.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What happens after arriving at Grandma's and Grandpa's for the holidays and you find them not acting like themselves? Their usually pristine homes appear shabby and neglected. Bills are unpaid and unopened. They have bruises from having fallen.

For the first time in months and maybe since the previous holiday season, many Americans will be visiting aging parents. Beginning at Thanksgiving, the holidays often prompt a spike in anxious phone calls from baby boomers who find that their parents have changed and may need help. But what does one do?

Dr. Olszyk, deputy chief of staff for the VA Maryland Health Care System, says the holidays provide a great time to be alert to signs about whether parents can continue to live independently. "While everyone is gathered together may be a good time to initiate a conversation with parents and other family members about health and financial concerns. Often times, seniors are unaware of the changes within themselves or they prefer not to address the issues if there is something amiss," he says.

Signs that aging parents may need some assistance include:

  • Forgetfulness and Confusion: Forgetfulness and confusion are not normal parts of aging and could be a sign of cognitive impairment, such as dementia or another treatable medical condition. Although there is still no cure for dementia, there are certain steps that, if taken early, can help delay symptoms or severity of the disease.
  • Free from Falls: The holidays are a good time to notice if aging parents are steady on their feet, if they trip, hold on to the furniture for support, or have bruises from falls. Unsteady seniors often restrict their movements or physical activities, making them even weaker and more prone to falling. Have a doctor monitor their physical abilities, install handles and bathroom grab bars, and provide a cane or walker to keep them safe.
  • Malnutrition: Notice any weight fluctuations and wonder if this is a sign of illness or malnutrition? Seniors might have difficulty getting groceries, opening cans or reaching for the top shelf. Significant weight loss or gain, which may be caused by certain medications, health conditions, or limited finances, are detrimental to the overall well-being of a senior. A physical exam should be scheduled immediately.
  • Neglected Home: Seniors can find everyday household chores overwhelming and especially difficult. In-home caregivers can manage cleaning, meal preparation, bathing and grooming, and lightening the burden of daily activities. Family members can decide that nearby grandchildren or family members can alternate in taking over the home care chores and perhaps make more frequent visits.
  • Medications: It could be difficult to keep track of medications. Home care providers can remind seniors to take their medications to avoid unnecessary risks and potentially serious health problems. Local departments on aging have programs that can help seniors manage their medications. Seniors do not metabolize medicines the same way that younger people can.
  • Home Monitoring Device: A home monitoring device can be an invaluable and life saving gift for aging parents during the holidays.
  • Family Member of Veterans: Family members of Veterans who are already enrolled in VA health care can call their loved one's primary care provider at the VA Maryland Health Care System to request a consultation. The VA can assist with everything from respite care to hospice care and also assess non VA-assisted living facilities to make sure the Veterans needs are met. Family members of Veterans who are not enrolled for VA health care can call the Enrollment office for the VA Maryland Health Care System at 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7324 to enroll their Veteran parents for VA health care.

Editor's Note: To speak to Dr. Mark Olszyk, please contact Rosalia Scalia at 410.605.7464, or via e-mail at rosalia.scalia@va.gov. or via cell phone at 410.736.8444.

 

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