The holidays are a special time to spend with friends
and family. Gathering together for a festive meal, telling stories, sharing a laugh…it's
all great fun. In today's world, it's common for families to be spread across the
country. For many families, the holidays may be the only opportunity to be together.
It's a great time to catch up and talk about experiences and plans for the future.
For adult children with aging parents, it's also a chance to reflect on how your
loved ones are doing, both physically and mentally. The difference from one holiday
to the next may be subtle, or shocking. In order to help your parents stay healthy
and safe, the Mayo Clinic recommends asking yourself the following questions:
Are your parents taking care of themselves? Pay attention to their appearance:
Are they keeping up with their personal grooming? What about their clothes — are
they clean or in disrepair? Are your parents experiencing memory loss? Modest memory problems are a fairly
common part of aging, such as forgetting appointments or where the keys are. Are
memory changes more concerning, such as forgetting common words when speaking, getting
lost in familiar neighborhoods, or being unable to follow directions?
Are your parents safe in their home? Is it tidy or is it uncommonly messy or
dirty? Are there repairs that are being neglected? Is it safe, meaning grab bars
or hand rails in place where needed, no loose rugs or mats to trip on, well lit,
and smoke and/or carbon monoxide monitors and alarms are functioning? Are your parents safe on the road? If your parents become confused while driving
or you're concerned about their ability to drive safely, it may be time for them
to stop driving. This can be a difficult loss of independence. Many seniors make
the transition by utilizing a service, such as Access or Access-a-Ride, or other
Have your parents lost weight? Losing weight without trying could be a sign that
something's wrong. Are your parents having difficulty preparing their meals? They
may have lost their sense of taste or smell. An underlying medical condition could
also be the cause, such as malnutrition, dementia, depression or cancer.
Are your parents in good spirits? A drastically different mood could be a sign
of depression or other health concerns. According to AgingCare.com, signs include:
an “empty” feeling, ongoing sadness, and anxiety; tiredness, lack of
energy; loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities; sleep problems; eating
more or less than usual; crying often; aches and pains that don't go away when treated;
difficulty in focusing, remembering or making decisions; feeling guilty, helpless,
worthless or hopeless; feeling irritable; thoughts of suicide or death. Listen carefully
to see if your loved one is asking for help.
Are your parents able to get around? Do they seem to have any difficulty in walking
around the house or usual distances? Are they having problems walking up and down
stairs? Do they seem steady of their feet? Have they fallen? Falling is a major
cause of disability among older adults.
Even if you live far away, here are some tips on how you can help:
Share your concerns with your parents openly and honestly. Consider including
other family members or friends in the conversation. This should be done in a caring,
compassionate way as it may be a difficult conversation for your parents.
Encourage regular medical checkups. If possible, make arrangements to accompany
your parents to the doctor or ask another family member or friend to do so.
Address safety issues. Help make a plan to resolve any possible safety issues.
Consider home care services. This can be as basic as hiring someone to help with
cleaning, cooking and errands. If your parents need more assistance, a home health
aide can help with bathing, dressing and other activities of daily living. If remaining
in their home is too challenging or unsafe, discuss the possibility of moving to
an assisted living facility.
Contact their doctor for guidance. If you believe your parents' health and safety
are at risk and they disagree, see if their doctor has permission to speak with
you about their health and needs.
Seek help from local agencies. Contact the local Area Agency on Aging or Department
of Aging for information and resources regarding appropriate services that may be
available to assist your aging parents.
Realizing the extent of your parents' aging and their growing needs can be overwhelming.
Ask for help — it's available. Working together, seniors and their adult children,
family members, friends and other resources can help keep them safe and healthy
for years to come.