Dr. Belinda Stillman: Holidays offer a good time to assess how older relatives are doing

This article first appeared online at GoErie.com on Dec. 25, 2022.

The holiday season is often a time for joy, love and family. It can be a wonderful and memorable time of year.

It can also contribute to heightened feelings of depression, anxiety, apathy and — in the case of those assisting the older adults in their lives — caretaker burnout.

As you celebrate festivities and look toward the new year, this can also be a natural opportunity to consider care options and needs for yourself or an older adult in your life. Interacting with family can shed light on a loved one’s circumstances and help identify living situation red flags.

Accessing services and supports for geriatric needs within our community can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.

The first step to understanding the level of care needed requires asking yourself or your loved one questions about daily activities when recognizing red flags and warning signs:

  • Are they keeping up with their home and paying their bills?
  • Are they showering, changing clothes and engaging in other forms of good hygiene?
  • Are they keeping up with medication and remembering to fill their medications?

If the answers to some or all these questions are “no,” it is likely cause for concern.

Outward signs of behavioral changes, such as wandering or combativeness, or breakthrough symptoms, such as tremors and anxiety from not taking medications properly, can also signal a need for assistance.

One of the most important ways to ensure proper care is to be proactive, rather than reactive. Do not wait until an emergency happens.

It is better for all those involved to consider living arrangements and supports before an actual emergency occurs.

Having a smooth transition means being able to tour facilities, figure out financial pieces and find the perfect fit for you or your loved one.

If this topic is imminent in the new year and beyond, now is the time to begin that process rather than waiting until someone has a sickness or falls. At that point, you or your loved one are likely going to require a higher level of care that often requires a copious amount of time and resources to navigate.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, emergencies happen. When they do, our area is saturated with effective resources.

Remember that there are several levels of senior care available: assisted living arrangements, senior living centers, in-home care and more. This can make the discussion more palatable for you.

Working with a team of experts, including behavioral-health professionals and geriatricians, can help you and your family make the right decision for all involved.

Behavioral-health professionals can work with your family to help identify warning signs caused by something such as the death of a spouse, a need for medication, or whether higher levels of care are appropriate to maintain optimal functioning and quality of life.

If you spot any red flags of depression, anxiety, apathy or caretaker burnout this holiday season, give the gift of care to yourself and those around you by establishing a plan.

Dr. Belinda Stillman is a psychiatrist at the LECOM Institute for Behavioral Health.

Dr. Belinda Stillman

Call (814) 454-3174 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Belinda Stillman at LECOM Institute for Behavioral Health.