December 12, 2019

Now that the holidays are in full swing, many of us will be traveling home to celebrate with family from near and far. With all your family members in one place, the holidays can be a good time to check on your aging parents and make sure they’re still safe and happy in their home.

Especially if you haven’t seen your parents in-person in a while, you should pay attention to clues that indicate they need a little extra help. Keep an eye out for these five important signs while you’re home for the holidays:

  1. Weight loss

When you hug your mom or dad, do they seem significantly thinner than you last remember? Unintentional weight loss could be a sign that they’re not eating well-balanced meals. Certain medical conditions, like arthritis or chronic fatigue, can make it difficult for older adults to grocery shop, prepare meals, and clean up afterward. Some seniors, especially those who live alone, may not feel like it’s worth the time and effort to cook for just one person. Many people also experience a loss of appetite as they get older.  

  • Trouble with balance

During your visit, pay attention to how your parents get around their home. Are they shuffling their feet when they walk? Are they unsteady when standing for long periods? Do they struggle to get in and out of chairs? These signs could mean your parents are having trouble with balance and mobility, which puts them at risk of falling.

  • Changes in mood or personality

Ask your parents about their social life. How often do they get out of the house and spend time with friends? Are they still involved in the activities they love? Are they in high spirits? If your mom or dad seems unusually withdrawn or down, this could be a sign they’re experiencing loneliness, depression, or anxiety. Additionally, mood swings and personality changes can be a symptom of dementia.

  • Personal care and appearance

Be aware of any major changes to your parents’ grooming standards and personal appearance. Are their clothes clean? Are they bathing regularly? Is their hair (or facial hair) well-groomed? A noticeable decline in personal hygiene is an indication that your parents need some extra help taking care of themselves.

  • Home safety

Take a look around your parents’ home. Does it need significant repairs or updates? Do you see stacks of unopened bills, overflowing baskets of laundry, or excessive clutter? Is there expired food in the fridge or pantry? If so, it could be a clue that your parents are having difficulty keeping up with basic household chores and responsibilities.

Starting conversations about the future

If you notice any of these signs, you should speak up—but not necessarily during the holidays. Instead, focus on being present and enjoying time together.

After the holidays, talk to your parents about what you observed. Sometimes, older adults don’t recognize that they need help, and even if they do, they might be reluctant to ask for it. Start by sitting down with your parents and telling them about your concerns in a kind, positive tone. Ask them how they’re really doing and listen to the concerns they might have.

When you’re ready, open up the conversation to the idea of downsizing and moving to an assisted living community. In an assisted living community, your parents will receive help with daily tasks while maintaining their independence. Even if your parents aren’t quite ready for assisted living, having these important conversations early and often will give your family time to research and tour assisted living communities so you can make a decision together.