The gift of time: How to use the holidays to check on your family’s well-being

It is officially holiday season!

With the holidays comes an opportunity to spend time with family and check on how loved ones are doing. As our relatives age or enter new stages of life, some of them may face health challenges we only discover when we visit in person. Spending quality face-to-face time is the best way to pick up on subtleties such as memory problems, impaired judgement, changes in mood, and cognitive declines. These are the kinds of health issues people may not recognize or admit to themselves. And yet, they can be signs of something serious (for example, every year in Canada about 25,000 new cases of dementia are diagnosed, and 1 in 5 Canadians will experience  a mental health or addiction problem). From a health law perspective, it is important to be aware of such changes because our relatives may, at some point, need our help or some kind of intervention.

On that note, here are some tips to help you look perhaps a little more carefully at your loved ones this holiday season:

  • Although holiday time can be chaotic, slow down and pay attention to detail. Is your loved one well groomed? Are they taking care of their house (or bedroom)? Are they acting like themselves? Or are they acting unusually angry, withdrawn, bizarre or impulsive?
  • Ask questions and try to engage in meaningful conversations. How are they spending leisure time? Do they have a social network? What brings them joy these days? Where applicable, how is work/school going?
  • Interact with the relatives you don’t like or trust. Too often we see families who suspect the worst in their siblings. They believe a brother or sister is taking advantage of mom or dad or plotting to get their inheritance. While this may be true in some cases, often there are simply misunderstandings about each other’s intentions. If not managed proactively, they can spiral into stressful and costly legal battles in the future.
  • Holiday visits are a good time to observe relationships between older adults and others, as sadly there are cases of elder abuse that often go unnoticed. Consider these questions: Does your family member act differently in anyone’s presence? Is there anyone (perhaps an adult who lives with your family member) who insists on being present at all times? Does your relative seem to delegate most decisions to another person?

It can be difficult to realize that a loved one needs help, and even more difficult to offer that help, particularly if it is not wanted or involves sharing an uncomfortable observation.

Many of our clients come to us feeling like they need to do something to intervene before a family member’s situation declines, but they are not sure what their options are – or what the law even permits.  From helping a loved one seek mental health treatment, to applying for guardianship, there can be a variety of legal (and non-legal but strategic) options available. It is always our pleasure to help you protect your loves ones.

Here’s to a safe, happy and healthy holiday season!


Lisa Feldstein

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