If you live far away from your aging parents, the holiday season is often the one time you may see them all year. Enjoy your visit and use the opportunity to check to see how they’re coping.
A few things to monitor when you have Aging Parents
The condition of your parents’ home. If your elderly parents’ home doesn’t look clean or you see stacks of paperwork, magazines, or other things accumulating – this may be a sign that they’re not keeping up. Ask them how they’re doing. It might be a good time to explore whether they could use help with housecleaning/maintenance, or are ready to move to a smaller living space.
Food in cupboards, refrigerator and freezer. How much food is in the cupboards and refrigerator? Are things outdated? Is the freezer full of frozen dinners? Food preparation is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside with older adults.
Covert messages from friends and neighbors. If you have an opportunity to speak with your parents’ close friends and neighbors, listen closely for anything they may be trying to communicate. They may be torn between not wanting to meddle and feeling concerned. If you suspect something is different about your parents, ask friends and neighbors. They may be looking to you for a signal that it’s okay to share their concerns.
How your parents are in social situations. Are they happy, present in the conversation and aware of what’s going on around them?
Opportunities to interact with their medical professionals. Tag along to a medical appointment. HIPPA prevents medical staff from sharing information with you without your parents’ permission. Your parents can sign a release so medical info can be shared with adult children.
Driving skills.Be a passenger in the car with your aging parent; observe his/her comfort level behind the wheel, responses to traffic situations, any signs of confusion.
Weight Loss. The cause could be serious like cancer, heart failure or depression or it could be related to a lack of energy to cook.
Balance.Pay close attention to the way your elderly parent moves, and in particular how they walk. If they are unsteady on their feet, they may be at risk of falling, a serious problem that can cause a severe injury or worse.
If you discover things that concern you, don’t jump to the conclusion that your parent is slipping. The changes may be due to drug interactions or depression. Take action:
- As an adult child, share your concerns with your parents. Talk to them openly and honestly.
- Encourage regular medical checkups.
- Address safety issues. Point out any potential safety issues to your parents; then make a plan to address them. Perhaps your parents could use assistive devices to help them reach items on high shelves or to help them stay steady on their feet. A higher toilet seat or handrails in the bathroom might help prevent falls.
Above all else remember to enjoy your time with family this holiday season!
Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, is an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager at Complete Care Strategies