What To Look For When Visiting Your Parents – Signs Your Loved One Needs More Assistance and Tips for Starting the Conversation

large family opening Christmas presents

When visiting your aging parents over the holidays, you may notice that one or both have lost weight, or you find expired or rotting food in their refrigerator, or even cooked food in the oven that was never eaten.  Their home may be unkept either inside or out…or both.  Or you find expired medications, or that they are simply not taking their medications.  Possibly they are having a hard time keeping up with simple tasks or making easy decisions.  These are all signs that your loved ones are struggling and need more help.

These visits provide an important opportunity to observe your parents’ physical and mental state to determine whether they’re thriving on their own or may require additional help.  The pressure of cooking and hosting, or the activity and noise of lots of children in the house, can throw anyone off.  So think of this as a time to reconnect, observe and get an update on how your parents are doing.  But while you are enjoying that pumpkin pie and laughing at old family stories, keep your eye out for signs that they might need more help.

According to the Institute on Aging, nearly one third of seniors live alone and their physical limitations and prevalence of depression are likely to increase with age.  The AARP reports that nearly 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their home and “age in place,” even when they need assistance.  It’s easy for parents to hide their day-to-day challenges over the phone or during quick visits, but the holiday season offers more time for you to see things as they are.  This is a great opportunity to check in on whether your senior parents are struggling to complete their daily tasks, and to have a conversation about their long-term goals and care plans.

If you are noticing small signs of gradual decline, there’s no need to have a heavy talk during the holidays, says Barbara Silverstone, co-author of You & Your Aging ParentIf your relationship with your parents is fairly good, she adds, issues may come up naturally in conversation.  Instead, enjoy the time together with family pitching in with cooking, cleaning and driving as much as you can.

Here are some things you may ask yourself when visiting your loved one:

  • Is your loved one getting together with friends or participating in activities they enjoy? It’s a fact that social isolation and loneliness can lead to depression.
  • Is your loved one repeating themselves or asking the same thing over and over?
  • Do they get tongue-tied?
  • Do they get lost when they drive to a familiar place? Does your loved one’s car have any signs of fender benders?
  • Can your loved ones remember commitments such as doctor’s appointments, plans with friends, car maintenance appointments, etc?
  • Do your loved ones have the ability to learn something new? Is your mom or dad struggling to absorb and retain new information? 
  • Is trying a new activity unusually difficult?
  • Are your loved ones struggling to manage finances? Are bills piling up or other problem-solving skills declining?
  • Are your loved ones able to make good judgements and good decisions?
  • Have you noticed any behaviors or situations that seem out of the ordinary?
  • Is your loved one in poor hygiene, have a lack of grooming, weight loss, poor balance or bruises?
  • Are they able to cook nutritious meals for themselves?
  • Is the medicine in their bathroom expired? Are they able to manage medications by themselves?
  • Are your loved ones able to keep track of time?
  • Is your loved one having a hard time remembering what day it is? Are they losing track of time on an even larger scale?

Aside from the above mentioned, many seniors will exhibit physical signs of this cognitive decline.  There are several additional warning behaviors to look for such as agitation, wandering, picking at the air, sleep problems, eating problems and incontinence.

These questions are only meant to open up conversation, and always start out with the positive.  Ask them, “What are your long-term goals and how can I support them?”  If your parent wants to stay at home but you noticed they are having issues keeping it clean, politely suggest hiring a cleaning service.  If they are lonely, encourage outings or arrange for a weekly visitor.  If they are interested in senior living, research places in the area and schedule tours.  If they need too much assistance, you may need to move them into an Assisted Living or Memory Care community.

It is often not an easy time to have that conversation with your loved ones.  Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help you.  We are always here to provide guidance in these challenging situations.  Call us at 253-752-6621.

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