Celebrating the season with our elders while alleviating concerns about their health, safety, and independence.
Courtesy of the New York State Office for the Aging
The upcoming winter holidays are approaching. This is a natural time for family and friends to get together and are sometimes the only occasions loved ones have to physically check in with each other during the year.
As you’re spending time with older loved ones this season, you may have concerns about their health and well‐being. You should feel reassured that New York State was designated as the first Age‐Friendly State in the nation by AARP and the World Health Organization in part because of the network of supports and services available across our state. Here are some suggestions on how you can prepare for your visit with an older family member, friend, or neighbor, and what you can do to help them maintain their health and independence.
You may notice physical changes, such as weight loss or gain. If their weight change is significant, they may need some nutritional education or help with meals. NY Connects (1.800.342.9871) is a trusted source for free, unbiased information about long‐term services and support for New Yorkers. Resources on age‐friendly meals (such as Meals on Wheels), the locations of congregate meal sites where older adults can enjoy a hot meal and companionship, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides financial assistance for purchasing healthy foods, are all available through this office.
Perhaps you’ve noticed their balance is deteriorating. Many communities offer fall prevention classes and programs that help older adults improve their balance. New York Connects, again, is your go‐to resource to learn more about these programs. Your loved one may also may be eligible for a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) through the New York Elder Caregiver Support Program, notifying emergency services and a caregiver if the wearer falls.
Condition of the Home
As you’re visiting, consider the environment. Is the walkway clear of snow and ice? Are the appliances in working order? Is the interior temperature of the house warm enough? Do you notice any broken railings or stairs?
If you have concerns about the structural safety of the living space, contact NY Connects. You may also consider engaging in the New York State Department of Housing and Community Renewal’s RESTORE Program, which provides financial resources to help older homeowners with the cost of dealing with home maintenance emergencies. Additionally, the Office for Temporary and Disability Assistance offers the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), providing financial help with paying home energy bills.
Changing Cognitive Capacity
As we age, it is normal to experience a slight cognitive decline. Dementia, however, is not a normal process of aging. While Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type, there are more than 400 different types of dementia, some of which are reversible. If you notice things like mail or garbage piling up, or that your loved one has difficulty understanding visual information (like reading an analog clock face), or struggles to follow directions for recipes or driving, these could be early warning signs of dementia. You may want to gently suggest they discuss your concerns with their doctor. The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 Helpline (1.800.272.3900) that can assist you with these difficult conversations, as well as connect you with further resources.
Behind the Wheel
Statistically, and contrary to stereotype, older drivers are the safest drivers on the road—they cause fewer accidents, have lower rates of impaired driving, and are more likely to obey traffic laws. However, if you’re taking a ride with your older loved one and have concerns about their driving, quietly observe the vehicle’s condition. Is the registration up to date? Do you notice any scratches or dents? If you are worried about an older driver, the NYSOFA publication, Are You Concerned? is dedicated to helping families keep older drivers safe (available at aging.ny.gov). Additionally, many communities offer CarFit clinics, where a trained technician evaluates the “fit” of the driver in their vehicle and makes recommendations that result in safer driving.
In a Nursing Home
If your loved one resides in a nursing home, it is vital to maintain a connection. Approximately 60% of nursing home residents never have a single visitor. If you have concerns about the care of a loved one who is living in a skilled nursing facility, please contact the New York State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program (1.855.582.6769), which provides nursing home residents with a trained and caring advocate to speak up on behalf of your loved one. Additionally, the New York State Department of Health operates a Nursing Home Hotline (1.888.201.4563), with which you may share your concerns.
Above all, the most important elements of helping an older loved one maintain their health and independence are good communication and respect. Relish your time with the elderly of our community, and especially, enjoy their company this holiday season.
The New York State Office for the Aging is here to support you and your loved ones as you live, work, and age in New York State. To learn more about any of the resources mentioned, please contact NY Connects at 1.800.342.9871.