Family gatherings during the holidays are a great time to check up on older relatives and see how they’re doing, according Dr. Marion Somers, author of “Elder Care Made Easier.”

Somers said it’s important to keep an eye out for any changes – no matter how subtle – when visiting elderly relatives at their homes, especially if they are living alone.

“These things don’t happen automatically,” Somers said.  “They happen over a period of time, so it may not be a radical change.”

Potential trouble signs to look out for in seniors include:

-Spending excess time searching for words

-Not taking proper care of themselves

-Not opening mail

-Not watering plants

Seniors living at home by themselves need extra attention because they are more easily isolated.  Besides looking out for warning signs inside the home, Somers said it is important to also pay attention to the neighborhood for safety concerns.  She said relatives should ask themselves questions such as, “Has the neighborhood changed radically?” and “Is it still safe to go to the grocery store to buy milk?”

At some point, it may be necessary to move seniors out of their home and into an assisted living facility or nursing home.

To find the right facility, Somers advised going on a guided tour and then returning to the location at a later time.  She said it is important to pay attention to the cleanliness of the facility, the happiness of the current residents, and how the staff interacts with the residents and each other.

“All of that makes a big difference,” Somers said.  “This is now their home.”