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Aged care expert's top tips for a merrier Christmas

Tis the season to be lonely - aged care expert's top tips for a merrier Christmas

Wednesday 18 December, 2019


An aged care expert is urging Kiwis to take time to understand the needs of their elderly loved ones this holiday season – a time when stress can take its toll on all generations of the family.

Miranda Smith, founder of in-home care specialists Miranda Smith Homecare, says that the Christmas and holiday period can be a time of intense loneliness for our elderly. “Often, family members will leave town for a week or two, leaving Nana or Granddad without the continuity of care, contact and community they’re used to,” Miranda says. “It’s important that families have a chat to their loved ones before they go away and take an interest in what they are doing – if they’ll be catching up with friends, going to church or playing bridge, and who’s around to support them.”

Miranda says loneliness and vulnerability may not always be immediately obvious to family members, and for adult children, it’s easy to assume that Mum or Dad is coping well as they age. “Cognitive decline can happen without us really noticing, so before heading off on the summer holiday, it pays to spend a bit of time checking out what’s happening around at your parents’ place.”

She says there are some common markers that things might be getting a little overwhelming for elderly family members. “Things like spoiled food in the fridge, a house that isn’t as tidy as it used to be, newspapers or mail left in the letterbox, or gardens that are getting a bit rustic!” she says. “A loss of interest in hygiene and grooming can also be an early sign of decline, so check that Mum or Dad is wearing clean clothes, brushing teeth and hair – that sort of thing.”

Miranda Smith Homecare provides tailored care – from a few hours a week to round-the-clock aged, dementia and palliative care – in clients’ own homes across New Zealand. Services allow the business’s mostly retired clients total flexibility over the length and type of care they require, and as a consequence, they’re better able to retain independence as they age.

“For many, sadness and depression can creep in when we feel we have little or no control over plans, and there can be the added stress of relying on family to take care of us, rather than the other way around,” explains Miranda.

Even spending time with extended family on Christmas Day – while lovely – can be exhausting for the elderly. But Miranda says there are simple checks we can all make to create an environment that is enjoyable for a loved one. She suggests considering:

What your parent or grandparent might need in terms of personal care items during the day – medication, continence support etc
What their specific dietary requirements are
If there’s a quiet space to rest if they get tired
Any fall or trip hazards, and how they can get around your home if less mobile, and
How they will get to and from the host’s home for Christmas.
And Miranda suggests that for those heading away this holiday season, engaging the services of a carer, even just for a few hours each week, or asking a friend or neighbour to be on hand to support Mum or Dad can be a practical solution.

“Our carers are specially trained to check on medication, nutrition, general health and social activities and monitor for any warning signs that things aren’t as they should be,” Miranda says. “However there are some questions any family member, friend or neighbour can ask in person or by phone to quickly assess if things are ok at home, such as:

Have you had a shower today?
Have you eaten breakfast?
Have you been out of the house today or yesterday – and where did you go?
What do you have in the fridge for dinner tonight?
Do you have any pain right now, or did you experience pain last night?
When did you last speak to friends or family on the phone?”
Miranda says there should always be a contact plan in place if any issues arise – and says it’s important that there is more than one person able to make decisions on behalf of an aged loved one.

“The holiday period is a chance for everyone to have a well-deserved break,” she says, “and it’s a lot easier for the whole family to relax when there’s good planning and preparation in place. A little thought and fine-tuning of festivities will help ensure everyone has a merrier Christmas this year – and for those that need more tailored, personalised assistance and support, our team is on hand to help.”


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