Visiting Mom and Dad for the Holidays?

By Meg Pemberton MHA BSN RN

It’s a Good Time to look at These 5 Signs Indicating Your Parents Need Help

With the holiday season in full swing now is a good time to check in with your aging parents. If you’re headed home for holidays you’ll have the perfect opportunity to see how they are doing. However, like most hosts, your parents will be sure to have prepared well for their guests, even if they are family. You may have to dig below the surface to get a sense of how your parents are really doing. Here are five signs, clues if you will, to look for as you visit with your parents.

Start with a Big Hug

Yes, a hug! As noted by Paula Spencer Scott of, there is much we can learn from a warm hug. Does mom feel the same? Has she lost weight? As our parents age their eating habits may change. Often their sense of taste is altered by medications and they stop eating what doesn’t taste as it once did. Loneliness and depression can lead to decreased appetite and weight loss. This may be a particular problem for a widowed parent. Check the fridge and cupboards. Are they well stocked?

On the flip side, have either of your parents gained weight? Reduced finances can lead to a poor diet rich in cheaper, less healthy foods. Elderly diabetics struggling with memory may lose track of when they last ate thus eating more than normal.

Does dad still smell of his favorite after shave? Is he shaving? Are your parents dressing appropriately? Changes in grooming habits can be a sign of memory issues. This can also be an indicator of physical issues impacting their ability to care for themselves easily. After the hug watch for changes in their gait. Observe how they handle their daily activities. Do they lack the strength needed to complete the activities?

Look for Dirt and Dust

No need to get out a white glove but, do take a close look. Are they cleaning house? Taking out the trash? If your mom has always kept a spotless home and now she isn’t this could be a sign she needs help. She may no longer be able to physically clean the house without assistance. My mother in law always kept a tidy home. As an elderly widow she became less so particularly as her health deteriorated. With decreased activity and/or disease processes your parents may have less strength to run the vacuum and take the trash out.

Check the Mailbox

Is mail piling up in the box? If the mailbox is at the end of the driveway perhaps they struggle to get to it. Walk with them to the mailbox to see how they handle the activity. Is the mail sitting in the house unopened? If so, how much and for how long? Are the bills being paid? Now is a good time to be nosy and check to see if your parents are struggling with finances. This could be due to forgetfulness rather than true financial distress.

If you’re concerned about your parent’s finances, talk to them about it. Is their income sufficient for their needs? Be sure to ask if anyone is helping them. For example, is a neighbor or another family member helping by writing checks for your parents? Who has access to their banking information and accounts? Unfortunately, elder abuse can be financial (click here for more information). Now is a good time to discuss what help they may need as well as power of attorney (click here for more information).

Take a Drive

Let your mom or dad take you out for a spin in their car (let them drive). How are they managing? When my dad thought it was okay to turn left on a red light mom knew it was time to hide the car keys from him. It’s best to get ahead of this one early. Look for signs of distracted driving. How is their reaction time? Take a good look at the car too. Any dents or other signs of damage? Is the inspection up to date? Your parents will be reluctant to give up driving. Doing so is a significant loss to their independence.

Say Hello to the Neighbors

Visiting with your parent’s neighbors can give you further insight to how they are managing day to day. Neighbors may have observations to share though they may have been reluctant to reach out to do so. Make sure they have your contact information (if appropriate). Ask if your parents have been socializing with them particularly if they have in the past. Do you neighbors see your parents coming and going? Have your parents called upon them for assistance of any kind?

Bring this Present

The present you can give this season is your presence. Not just be there but be present. Emily Gurnon at Next Avenue has some advice regarding being present, click here.  Too often in our daily lives we rush to complete our tasks. Life is busy. Slow down long enough to really see and hear your parents. They may tell you all is well and on the surface it may seem as though it is. But is it? Have they put up their Christmas tree and decorations yet? If not, help them do so. Be observant. Look for clues.

When the Clues Tell you Help is Needed

Your parents need for assistance may vary from housekeeping to personal care. It may be time to consider changes to living arrangements. If your journey is just beginning, reaching out to your parent’s Area Agency on Aging is a good place to start.  Checking with your parent’s primary care physician is also a good idea. They can help with appropriate medical assessments. If your parent is in need of companion or personal care, a Geriatric Carte Manager or Certified Senior Advisor can help you identify the best fit be it in home care or an assisted living situation. The options are many and they are varied both in level of service and cost.

ElderCare Connections can help!

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