Home for the Holidays? 5 Signs to Look For as You Check on Parents’ Well-Being

By: Austin Kiliham

This holiday season, families across the county will come together to celebrate. Going home for the holidays can give adult children a window into how their aging parents are faring and a chance to pick up on any worrisome clues.

This year, while you’re celebrating, take time to do some sleuthing and look for these five signs that perhaps things aren’t going as well for Mom and Dad as they should be.

1. Look for physical change.

A person’s body can tell you a lot about how they’re doing, and some physical features raise potential red flags. Weight loss can be an indicator of physical illness or depression. It can also signify that a parent is having difficulties shopping for food or cooking for themselves. Weight gain, on the other hand, can point to injury, diabetes, or even dementia, if a person forgets they have eaten and eats meals over and over again.

Increased frailty is also noteworthy. Ask yourself if your parent is shuffling more than previously, is having trouble balancing, or is having difficulty getting in and out of chairs.

Has your parent’s personal hygiene changed? Physical ailments or memory loss can impact a person’s grooming habits, so pay attention to how their hair and makeup look. Also, notice body odor and whether or not your parent is wearing clean clothes.

2. Glance through the mail.

Looking through the mail gives you clues about whether your parents are staying on top of daily tasks. Look for unopened personal mail from friends and relatives that wouldn’t usually be ignored. Look also at bills and letters from banks, creditors, and insurance companies. Red flags may go up if any letters from these institutions refer to late payments, overdrawn accounts, or hikes in insurances premiums resulting from recent accidents.

Older people can be especially vulnerable to solicitors, so take a look at what kind of charities are sending mail to your parents. Look for thank-you notes that signify recent donations. If a parent is experiencing memory loss, they give to the same charities repeatedly without remembering that they have been doing so.

3. Make a quick inspection of the house.

Look through the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets to see if there is any expired food. We all forget a can or two on the back shelf, but make sure those items are headed for the trash and not for consumption. Multiples of some kitchen items — 10 jars of mayonnaise, for example — may be a clue that your parent isn’t handling the shopping list correctly.

Take a look at any appliances that need repair, especially if it’s something that your parent used routinely but looks as though it has fallen into disuse. Also check for signs of past kitchen fires, a common danger for older people living at home.

Check the living spaces. Are they clean? Or is there more clutter than there used to be? Not only is too much clutter a tripping hazard but also it can mean that your parents are having a harder time maintaining their home.

Are your parents able to take care of plants and animals in the house? This can be a reflection of how well they are able to care for themselves.

Check for signs of neglect outside as well. Are there newspapers piling up on the porch, or is mail overflowing the mailbox? Look too for unmended fences, gutters that are clogged with leaves, or signs of a leaking roof or siding.

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4. Go for a drive.

Have your parents take you out for a drive. While outside the car, check for damage like dents and scratches that can be signs of careless driving. Inside, check the dashboard warning lights that can indicate forgetfulness when it comes to maintenance.

When you get out on the road, does your parent remember to buckle the seatbelt? Does he or she display any signs of driving impairment? These can include being easily distracted, having a slow reaction time, tailing too closely, or confusing the gas and break pedals.

5. Talk to friends and neighbors.

When talking to people in your parents’ social circle, notice if there is a general note of concern in their voices. Ask whether your parents have been getting out as much as they used to, or whether they’re not as social anymore. Ask if your parents have talked to friends about trouble they’re having with health or with chores at home — complaints that they haven’t mentioned to you. Talking with friends and neighbors can also be helpful if you think your parents could use some additional help. Creating a community at Lotsa is a great way to get some friends, family and neighbors involved in helping out your parents around the house.

While you’re home for the holidays this year, use this opportunity to assess the well-being of your loved ones, and consider opening any critical conversations about their wellness.

Austin Kiliham is an author at Caring.com the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Also a great place to learn about senior care options, long distance caregiving, and senior health.