12/12/2013 05:05 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2014

Holiday Gatherings: A Time to Check in With Loved Ones

The holidays are upon us, and in between, "Pass the mashed potatoes," and, "Time to open presents!" ask an older relative, "How are you feeling?"

According to the Department of Transportation, the travel period beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with New Year's is the busiest long-distance travel season of the year. This means that many of us will see relatives for the first time in many months. Over a 365-day period, an older person's health could begin to deteriorate - they could become more forgetful, more isolated, more unkempt. Use holiday family gatherings as an opportunity to look closer, listen harder and determine if your help is needed.

A little detective work will go a long way. Take a close look at your loved one's appearance. Are his clothes stained? Is her hair brushed? If your older relative's physical appearance looks like it has gone downhill, it might be an indicator that he is forgetting to do so, or perhaps, that he has lost interest or the ability to maintain a daily regimen in grooming, hygiene and daily dressing.

If possible, visit your older relative at his apartment or home. One's living space is also a gauge in the progression of aging. Peek inside the refrigerator - is there expired food? Is there enough food for a few days? You may see unopened bills on the table - or overdue notices. These are also indicators that your older relative may be having difficulty keeping up with day-to-day responsibilities at home. While you are in the neighborhood knock on a neighbor's door and ask if your older relative gets out of the house every day - or if his friends still visit from time to time. With aging comes the risk of isolation.

If you suspect that an older relative's health is beginning to decline, then it's time to begin a conversation and put a plan in place to help. Have a family meeting to get everyone up to speed and on board to assist when and where necessary. There are many automated systems that can easily be put into place for online payment of utilities, phone and other regular charges. Reach out to a neighbor or community organization to check on your older relative periodically.

If you find that you or other members of the family cannot be involved with regular care of your older relative, you may want to consider contacting a geriatric care manager to find the right resources and solutions and put into place a comprehensive plan of care. The Hebrew Home's Care Management provides unparalleled expertise and provides professional, caring and responsive concierge service to manage the complexity of caring for an older adult.

Starting this dialogue is also important because sometimes an older adult who may have lost some functional capacity may have unknowingly made some financial or other decisions that may not be in their best interest. Vulnerable adults are particularly susceptible to financial exploitation and other scams. If you suspect this type of elder abuse may have occurred, you may consider contacting your local precinct, 311 or calling the Weinberg Center at 800-56-SENIOR for other resources in your community.

I hope this holiday season finds you surrounded by family and friends, and that you use these gatherings as an opportunity to gain important information about the health and well being of an older relative.