Going home for the holidays is a wonderful, exciting time for many families. For adults who live a considerable distance from their elderly parents, it also serves as the ideal time to see how they are managing on their own. While phone calls are great for staying connected throughout the year, it can be difficult to truly gauge their physical and mental health without seeing them in person. So, as you reconnect and enjoy each other’s company this holiday season, here are some signs you should look for to determine if and how your mom or dad could use additional support.
It’s easy to confuse memory loss with normal aging. That’s why knowing the difference between dementia and normal aging is crucial as your parents grow older.
Having forgetful moments from time to time, such as forgetting a word in a conversation or misplacing documents, can be expected. However, when your parents start having difficulty maintaining a conversation, frequently forget where they placed essential documents or show other signs of chronic forgetfulness, it can be a sign of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).
If dementia may be a concern for your family, pay close attention to these early warning signs during your visit:
- Frequent confusion
- Getting lost while driving or walking to familiar places
- Difficulty reading a book or following a conversation
- Misspending large sums of money
- Leaving mail unopened and bills unpaid.
Do mom and dad have noticeable changes in their weight (gain or loss)? Are you noticing poor hygiene or a disheveled appearance? It’s essential to take note of these changes during your visit. Often they can indicate your parent is no longer able to take care of themselves or suffering from mental health issues such as loneliness or depression.
A decrease in mobility is also noteworthy. Diminished mobility can lead to further problems and a poor quality of life. If you notice they’re having trouble balancing, walking up and down stairs or experiencing pain when standing up from a chair, don’t take those signs lightly, as they show your parents could be at a greater risk of falling. Consider making an appointment with their doctor to discuss options to help keep them safe and healthy, such as pain management, physical therapy or hiring in-home caregivers.
During your visit, see if your parents are keeping the house up to their usual standards. Remember that the things you’re looking for may not be obvious. Often, the warning signs are subtle. For example, scorched marks in the kitchen could indicate that they’ve forgotten about their food on the stove or in the oven a time or two. And while you’re in the kitchen, check for expired food, piled-up trash near the garbage can, or a lack of healthy food. These can all be signs that your parents aren’t handling the shopping list correctly, and it may be time to arrange for someone to take over meal preparation and basic housekeeping.
Also, pay close attention to the shared living spaces. Are they as clean as they usually are? Or did you notice an excessive amount of clutter? Not only is clutter a potential fall risk, but it is also a sign that your mom and dad could be having a more challenging time keeping up with the home.
If you notice any of the three warning signs listed above, take the opportunity to write down and collect any information while you’re still in town. Addressing these issues during a Christmas visit may not be the best time but do plan to evaluate and discuss the problems you found when appropriate. If you have siblings or other loved ones who are close to your parents, it could be beneficial to explain your findings to them as well.
Remember that having the initial conversation with your parents will be a vulnerable moment on both sides. However, this conversation is a first step toward keeping your parents safe, happy, and healthy at home in the long run. Suggest making an appointment with a doctor for a complete health assessment, as the results from this evaluation will help you work together to determine what next steps are necessary.
At HomeWell Care Services, we understand how making the right decision can be stressful for your family. That’s why we’re here to help you choose the right level of care and support for your loved one. Contact us to learn about our free consultations today.