By Caroline DeGroot
The holidays are synonymous with baking, shopping, gifts, decorations and family gatherings. These gatherings are often an opportunity for rest and relaxation away from the daily grind and stress of everyday life, but they serve another important purpose too.
This season, more than 100 million people could travel to see long-distance relatives. For family members and friends you don’t get to see often, these visits are a rare opportunity to inquire about their wellbeing and keep an eye on their living situation. There are simple warning signs you can look for during the holidays that can indicate if an aging loved one needs to visit a healthcare professional. Being proactive about pain and/or diminished mobility can help prevent chronic pain and improve quality of life.
Below, I’ve outlined a few warning signs family members and friends should look for when gathered for the holidays:
- Difficulty rising from a seated position: Everyone moves slowly after a big holiday dinner. But, if a relative suddenly needs to grasp the arm of a chair to pull themselves up, it could mean they’re losing leg muscle strength.
- Grabbing items for balance: Grasping counters or furniture while walking could indicate a lack of balance or a fear of falling, which ultimately leads to a higher risk of falling and injury.
- Changes in gait: If a loved one has started shuffling their feet, it likely means they’re feeling less secure about their ability to walk safely. An assisted walking device, like a cane or walker, may be necessary to improve balance and stability.
- Unsafe living conditions: Dim homes and objects like throw rugs can be hazardous and lead to an increased risk of falling, especially for those with mobility issues. Minimizing areas with thick carpeting or surface changes, hiding/tacking down cords and installing night lights during your visit can go a long way towards minimizing risk.
If your family members or friends have any of these beginning symptoms, I encourage you to talk with them about scheduling a doctor’s visit or a complimentary physical therapy screening. Early diagnosis, personalized exercise and realistic goal setting are vital for improving mobility and helping seniors live safely. Peace of mind that your loved ones are safe this holiday season may be the best gift of all.
Caroline DeGroot is a Physical Therapist and Vestibular Program Manager at Athletico Physical Therapy.