Christmas family health check

Lesley Dobson / 16 December 2016

What to watch out for in your relatives' health and what you can do to help.

It’s that time of year, when many of us get together with extended family and friends to eat and drink, exchange presents, and catch up on the news. It’s also a time when you might notice changes in your family and friends that trigger warning bells for their health.

There’s no need to raise your worries at the time, unless the person needs help straight away. You can mention your concerns to the person’s nearest friend or relative, or talk to them on their own, when it’s quiet.

Here are some of the signs that could be a cause for concern. Helping your nearest and dearest take action – with hand rails up the stairs, better lighting, or a trip to their GP  – could be the best Christmas present they get this year.

Symptoms:  light-headed, dizzy, tired, dry lips, mouth and eyes

These are some of the symptoms of dehydration. This can happen to anyone who hasn’t drunk enough to keep their body properly hydrated.

Older people can be especially prone to dehydration because as we age our bodies go through many changes, one of which is a reduction in our ability to feel thirsty. Being just mildly dehydrated can make older people feel dizzy and weak, and can affect their mental abilities.

How to spot the symptoms of dehydration – plus, strategies to stay hydrated

Symptom: forgetfulness

Becoming more forgetful is one of the many changes that can happen as we age.  Along with stress, anxiety and depression, forgetfulness can be related to some of the big events that can happen in our lives as we grow older, such as poor health, and the loss of loved ones.

Something else to bear in mind is that our ability to sense hot and cold can also reduce as we grow older. Being cold can make you forgetful, and may make you confused, which could mean that you forget to do important things, such as take prescribed medicines. The symptoms that follow could be mistaken for dementia.

There are different types of dementia, which can have different symptoms. Memory loss, for instance, forgetting where the plates are kept in the kitchen, repeatedly saying the same piece of information or asking the same question, are frequent symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Six reasons for forgetfulness

Learn more about the different types of dementia

What’s messing with your memory?

Five ways to supercharge your memory

Symptoms: depression and/or anger

If someone who you know is normally friendly and even-tempered appears to be in a low mood, or downright angry, one possible cause of the change in their mood is pain. If someone has been in pain for months, because of a bad back, for instance, they may well be feeling very bad tempered, particularly if treatment isn’t helping.

Depression is a common mental health problem for people with long-term back pain, but it isn’t always diagnosed, which means that it’s unlikely to be treated.

Depression can be brought on by many triggers, such as retirement, feelings of loneliness, and worries about poor health. Depression can also be caused by the loss of someone close to you, poor sleep, and feeling that you are a burden to other people. 

How to spot depression

Symptom: difficulty walking

Being unsteady on your legs, or having trouble walking (doctors sometimes refer to this as ‘off legs’) affects about one third of patients over 65 years old.

You are more likely to have this problem if you don’t do much exercise, are overweight, and have long-term conditions like arthritis or diabetes. About one third of patients aged more than 65 say that they have problems walking.

There is actually quite a long list of conditions that can cause walking problems. They include Arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems), Hypotension (high blood pressure), Transient ischaemic attacks/TIAs (like having a stroke, but the symptoms only last for a few hours at most). It would be a good idea for them to see their doctor about this problem, if they haven’t done this already.

If you are concerned that a friend or relative may be ill, or has a long-term condition that is becoming worse, talk to the people closest to them. When you see someone every day, you may not notice changes that happen gradually.

If you are an occasional visitor, and are surprised by the change in a friend or family member, ask if they are seeing their doctor, have been diagnosed with health problems, if they are taking their prescribed medicines, and if they need more help.

Preventing falls and accidents at home

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.