Your Checklist When Visiting Aging Parents During Holidays

Many adult children live out of town and don't frequently see their aging parents. Things seem fine on weekly phone calls. A parent's decline often goes unnoticed until a holiday visit. Use this checklist on your next visit to assess their risk.  

Are your elderly parents at risk living alone?

You picture your mom the way you remember from your last visit. But then you’re shocked when you see her during a holiday visit.

You find mom’s house in shambled disarray. Her hygiene is definitely not happening. There are piles of stuff everywhere, rotting meals-on-wheels food in the fridge, and mounds of paperwork piled on the dining room table.

First, don’t panic! Try not to rush in with scolding or accusing questions. Instead, take a deep breath and start making a thorough assessment of the situation. Gather the facts. Don’t rush to “fix” dad’s life or decide he must move to assisted living - now.

The apparent decline you see can have many underlying causes. Before making drastic plans assess these following areas. Professional help might be needed. If it is, you'll be glad you took the time to assess the situation. You'll be prepared to answer a professional's questions.

Weight Loss or Weight Gain

Sudden changes in weight can be a cause for concern.

Significant weight gain or loss can be a sign of chronic illness, depression, or dementia. Some medications change the way food tastes or diminishes appetite.

Shopping and preparing healthy meals takes a lot of energy. And it's not fun to always eat alone. Your parent may feel overwhelmed and unmotivated to eat balanced meals. 

See if you can determine some root causes of their weight loss.

Mobility and Fall Risk

Falls are the number one cause of injuries leading to death for older adults over 65 years. Broken hips, head injuries and hospitalizations are dangerous for elders. 

It’s important to check your parent’s mobility and determine if they’re a fall risk.

Related reading:  2016 CDC report

Some underlying causes of mobility issues include:

  • medication reactions,
  • poor nutrition, dementia,
  • depression,
  • heart conditions,
  • blood pressure issues,
  • arthritis,
  • ill-fitting shoes and slippers.

One frequent cause of falls is racing to answer a ringing phone! It’s a sign of poor judgement.

Other hazards include loose area rugs, pets and their toys, and electric cords.

Physical and Mental Wellness

Physical and mental health are inter-related. It’s often hard to decide which is the real underlying issue.

Dementia can cause depression, poor balance, hearing loss, and reduced appetite.

But, forgetfulness, confusion, and disorientation aren't necessarily dementia. Some physical illnesses can cause dementia type symptoms.

Professional assessments and tests will determine cause and treatments.

Take notes about what you see and hear. Your observations are key in helping professionals make accurate diagnosis if needed.

Some things to observe:

  • indications of pain,
  • beginning or increased incontinence,
  • level of self-care and hygiene,
  • is your parent taking medications properly, especially if the medication is newly prescribed.

Some things to ask your parent or others close to them:

  • Has your parent become withdrawn or dropped out of regular social activities?
  • Does she seem uninterested in hobbies she enjoyed before?
  • Does your dad seem anxious, fearful, or disoriented? (There’s a difference between him telling the same story you’ve heard a million times or being forgetful and repetitive. You’ll sense the difference when you hear it.)

Home Environment

Assess extreme changes in personal cleanliness habits. Make a note if you see disarray, filthiness, and haphazard piles everywhere. Especially if your parent has always been neat and tidy.

As we age, vacuuming and dusting can be a heavy chore. A little dust is one thing. Dirtiness and filth is another. Piles of dirty laundry or unwashed sheets and towels could indicate your mom can’t keep up.

Look for signs that your parent is at financial risk. Check the piles of magazines and paperwork for unpaid bills and utility shut-off notices. See if he’s getting a lot of solicitations for donations. He might be at risk for financial scams and rip-offs.

Check around the house for things in odd places - keys in the freezer or food in the clothes hamper for instance. Check the pantry for outdated food staples and bugs. See if the refrigerator has spoiled food or is bare.

​In Summary

As we age, it can be difficult asking for help. If dementia is an issue, an older person may not even recognize they need help (and often insist they don’t). Their judgement becomes impaired.

Using a checklist is your first step in assessing if your parent is at risk and whether they're safe living alone.

If you feel they need help, contact a professional for what next steps to take. Find out about resources available in their area.

You might want to set up support services so they can safely stay at home. Or, it may be time to move to senior living.

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