Spending Holidays With Aging Parents? Here’s What To Look For.

Age sneaks up on all of us. We forget where we left the car keys, have a few more aches and pains, and need a magnifying glass to read restaurant menus. That’s all part of the normal aging process and nothing to be concerned about. There are other signs, however, that should serve as red flags and prompt a closer look. The holiday season, as we spend time with aging parents, provides a perfect opportunity to notice changes in their physical and psychological health. Here are some things to look for:

  • Appearance: A significant weight loss could indicate difficulty in cooking or an undiagnosed medical condition such as dementia or cancer.
  • Personal hygiene: The Mayo Clinic points out that “Failure to keep up with daily routines — such as bathing and tooth brushing — could indicate dementia, depression or physical impairments.”
  • Mobility: Signs of muscle weakness or unsteady walking might suggest that the parent would benefit from a cane or walker. Addressing this issue is particularly important as it greatly increases the risk of falling and suffering a life-ending or permanently debilitating injury.
  • Confusion: Any indication that a parent is having difficulty understanding directions on medication, following a recipe, or getting lost while driving is cause for serious concern and should prompt discussion with a medical professional.
  • House and yard maintenance: An overgrown yard, broken appliances, blown fuses, non-working lights, and similar problems can point to general confusion or lack of interest in the day-to-day aspects of life.
  • Unopened mail and unpaid bills: Clutter in a household that is normally neat and well-organized can be an early warning sign of cognitive problems.
  • Spoiled food in refrigerator: Eating expired food can cause sickness and is another indication of general confusion.
  • Unexplained bruises: Dizziness and balance issues can result in falls and bruising on face, arms, and legs. By not explaining how the bruising occurred — or avoiding the topic entirely — can indicate it’s a common occurrence and something that should be addressed.
  • Dents and scratches on car: Driving represents independence and is an activity that no one wants to give up or have taken away. That means it’s an area where the elderly are most likely to be secretive. Driving when not fully capable, however, puts the driver as well as other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians at risk.

Once you’ve identified some concerns, what do you do? The elderly are often in denial about declines in their physical or emotional health. Many still believe they are fully capable of handling anything life throws at them. They tend to reject help, become defensive, and lash out at anyone who suggests they need assistance with day-to-day activities. This is the precise moment when the parent-child role fully reverses and it’s critical that you step up and accept the responsibility. Just as our parents guided us through childhood, made sure we made good decisions, and kept us safe, it’s now our turn to do the same for them.

Parenting responsibilities begin at the moment of birth. The responsibility of ensuring your parents’ health and safety begins as soon as the first red flag appears. You can’t wait until after a crisis occurs because — without a trace of exaggeration — that could be too late. Choose a private moment to begin a conversation. Speak as an adult-to-adult and discuss the changes you’ve noticed. Use concrete examples and focus on the most recent occurrences. Ask if they’ve noticed the same things and what they think might be going on.

It might take a single conversation or multiple over a period of time. Once your parent acknowledges the concern and agrees to address the problem, you can begin investigating the various care options. By being proactive in identifying the causes for concern, you won’t have to be in a blind rush to find the right solution for your parent’s particular circumstances. You can research the various options and make an informed decision — just like your parents did for you all those many years ago.

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