There’s something about being home for the holidays. Call it nostalgia, homesickness or just enjoying tried-and-true tradition, being home and surrounded by family during this festive time of year can spark a lot of joy.
But all of this quality family time may provide more than merry memories and cheerful feelings. After just a few short days together, you’ve probably picked up on one another’s health habits (or lack thereof), including subtle physical or emotional changes, or learned more about a family member's health than you’d care to know. And though these changes may be off-putting at first, they may actually be a blessing in disguise.
That’s because, after spending the bulk of the year apart, you’re able to pick up on health changes that other family members have become desensitized to or simply miss entirely.
So, while you’re enjoying family time this holiday season, take note if you see relatives exhibiting these key symptoms:
Have you noticed your grandma’s head hits a little lower on your chest when you give her a hug? This may be a sign of osteoporosis.
This condition is surprisingly common, affecting 1 in every 4 women and 1 in every 8 men over age 50. “In addition to loss of height, be on the lookout for stooped posture or a constant massaging of the back,” says Jay Desai, MD, a geriatrician with Gwinnett Internal Medicine Associates and Northside Hospital.
Unfortunately, osteoporosis doesn’t typically have obvious symptoms. So when in doubt, encourage your family member to speak with a doctor or take a bone density test.
Maybe your grandpa forgot you graduated a few months back or can’t remember that you recently moved to a new state. Little instances like this can be easily overlooked by those who see your grandparents every day; however, these lapses in memory can also signal something more serious, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Forgetfulness is just one part of the equation, though. Alzheimer’s can also cause general confusion, especially in the evening hours; difficulty completing routine tasks, such as paying bills; and aggressive or agitated behavior. “When it comes to this condition, catching symptoms early can make all the difference in terms of treatment,” Dr. Desai says.
Changes in Weight
Fluctuating weight might be one of the most frequent changes we see in family members year to year, but just because it's common doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take note.
For instance, sudden or rapid weight gain may indicate underlying issues, such as an underactive thyroid, diabetes, increased stress or even polycystic ovary syndrome.
On the other end of the spectrum, unexpected or sudden weight loss may be the result of celiac disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, irritable bowel syndrome or, in some rare cases, cancer.
“Either way, when trying to talk with a family member about changes in weight, it’s important to tread lightly and be sure to focus more on overall health, not necessarily the number on the scale,” says James Lin, MD, a provider with Northside Hospital’s Center for Weight Management.
Although it may just be a result of increased stress or a lack of quality sleep; in some cases, chronic or persistent fatigue may be a sign of something more. For example, if you notice a family member who wakes up feeling tired—even after a full night’s sleep—it may be a sign of a sleep disorder, a thyroid condition or depression.
With the holiday season upon us, soak up every minute of time spent together and take the time to really see one another. Little differences in their bodies or personalities might seem harmless—but they may make a big impact on health.
Care for Every Family Member
Your journey to lasting health starts with Gwinnett Medical Group Primary Care. As the health care team that knows about life’s ups and downs, GMG Primary Care offers comprehensive care for every life stage. Learn more at gwinnettmedicalgroup. com/primary.