It’s that time of year again! During the holidays, we often visit our parents, aunts and uncles and other seniors that we hold dear. These types of visits are a window of opportunity to really learn how they are doing when you visit them in their homes. But where to begin? I guess you could say that the answer is right in front of your eyes, nose, mouth, and other sensory organs. Let’s consider the 5 sense approach!

5 Sense Strategy for Senior Care


1. Eyes (Sight)

When you enter the home, what lies before you? Is the home disorganized, dirty, ripe with fall hazards? Is the lighting adequate? When you look in the fridge, is there rotting food? Is there food at all? Is the car intact or dented? Are there lots of bills unattended?

Do you notice balance issues or difficulty ambulating? What about medication management? Is there a pill box being filled weekly or are pills stored randomly with lots of discontinued prescriptions piling up?

Once you focus on looking for clues, you will discover a great deal of valuable information. Just take a look!

2. Nose (Smell)

The smell in the home can reveal a dirty environment, incontinence issues, and moldy food. Are the same clothes being worn over and over? Trust your nose to reveal some more clues about the current status of things. It’s another means of uncovering important clues to the picture before you.

3. Touch (Feeling)

When we hug our loved one, how do they feel? Do you notice changes in weight? Do they express discomfort when they are hugged? Can we feel dust and dirt when we touch the furniture? Sometimes what we feel is really an intangible sense that something is not right. Trust your instincts as a sign to explore things in greater depth.

4. Taste

Is the food offered to you fresh? Are the familiar dishes the same? Do you notice that they are not eating properly and are gaining or losing weight? Some medications affect taste and lead to a diminished or increased appetite. If they have a pet, is the pet eating regularly?

5. Ears (Hear)

Listen to what they are saying! Are they speaking in concise sentences? Can they follow a train of thought without difficulty? Do they repeat themselves? Do they seem depressed about recent losses? Do you notice changes in cognition?

Next Steps

No one wants to acknowledge the changes that we see from those we love! Don’t make yourself feel guilty for having not noticed before. Conversations by phone rarely provide the real picture that a face-to-face visit reveals. Use your senses for some real detective work. Write down your concerns on paper or tablet and review them for yourself.

Create an Action Plan

When you identify the problems and concerns that are revealed, it is time to take action. The problem is not one you can solve without outside intervention. Sometimes the solutions are simple. It could mean a housekeeper, senior center, bill payer, or some in home companionship. Meals on Wheels, in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, is one solution for food that can be delivered inexpensively. However, sometimes a plan of care is more complex, involving the need for various medical, cognitive, legal planning, and living arrangement resources. Many seniors are entitled to some governmental or veteran’s benefits if you know where to look. There are many creative ways to avoid nursing home care that may be possible.

Many families can designate a member to take on the tasks at hand. They can research resources, visit the appropriate medical professionals, locate attorneys, find entitlements and fully implement the actions to be taken. The other solution many families choose is hiring a professional geriatric care manager to design the Plan of Care and implement real change in a timely manner. You can contact the Aging Life Care Association, and you can also call us! We are happy to discuss your situation with you and point you in the right direction. It may be the first step to get the answers you are seeking.

In the spirit of the holiday season, welcome the opportunity to connect with all your senses to the joy of family in this imperfect world. And may your holidays be one filled with the love of family and friends and a time of discovery and wonder!



About the Author


Beverly Bernstein Joie is the founder and president of Complete Care Strategies, a senior care management company serving Philadelphia and its surrounding communities. A Certified Aging Life Care Manager with more than 20 years of experience, Beverly has worked in senior care since 1994, both in assisted living communities and in private practice. She is a member of the Aging Life Care Association and was a former president of the Philadelphia Chapter.

Complete Care Strategies consists of care managers, specialized human service professionals, who advocate and direct the care of seniors and others facing ongoing health challenges. Working with families, its expertise provides the answers at a time of uncertainty. Along with its licensed home care division, it can help clients safely remain at home under the watchful eye of skilled professionals. Families are afforded an integrated model of care that, with guidance and advocacy, lead them to the actions and decisions that ensure quality care and an optimal life for those they love