What to Look for When Visiting Your Senior Parents Over the Holidays

If you’re an adult child visiting a senior parent or parents over the holidays, read on. The experts at Brookdale Senior Living show you what to look for to know if someone needs more assistance than they’re getting. We’ll also share tips on how to start the conversation.

This is a sensitive, yet vital subject for millions of American families. The need for greater assistance can “sneak up” on families. A senior who is doing fine unassisted one year can be in serious danger the next. This is how aging can work, and adult children need to be attentive to the signs that more care is needed.

Adult children also need to confront their own discomfort at “parenting” their own parents. They need to speak frankly among siblings, and with aging parents.

Kim Estes Elliott, senior vice president of clinical services at Brookdale, suggests looking for:

Physical changes, like poor hygiene, a lack of grooming, weight loss, poor balance, or bruises. Physical appearance can speak volumes as to whether your parents are taking care of themselves.

Do you notice body odor, crumpled clothing or stubble on your father who was always clean shaven? Weight loss may indicate a poor diet or hint at a medical condition. Poor balance can lead to falls and bruising is a sign they aren’t steady on their feet.

Cognitive difficulties, like repeating themselves or asking the same thing over and over, challenges planning an activity, getting lost when driving to a familiar place, missing appointments, misplacing items, disorienting in stores, leaving the stove on, or not paying bills. Some memory loss is natural, like forgetting where their keys are or taking a few seconds to search for a word, but these other examples may indicate your parent is developing a more serious condition.

Habit changes, like no longer getting together with friends or participating in activities they enjoy. Research shows that friendships and a strong social circle have a dramatic impact on quality of life. Social isolation and loneliness can lead to depression.

Sensory changes, like a loss of vision, hearing, smell or taste. Some sensory changes are a normal part of aging, but others indicate underlying health issues. Hearing or vision loss can also impact social interactions and lead to loneliness or depression.

Other signs are in plain sight. Check the garage for fender benders or signs your parent is having trouble driving. In the kitchen, check to see if they are eating nutritious meals and if they are able to cook for themselves. Is their bedroom well-kept and odor free?

Check to see if there are stacks of unopened mail or if bills are piling up. Look in the medicine cabinet to see what medications are prescribed, if they are managed properly or expired.

“If you notice any alarming changes in your loved one, take time to chat with them about it,” suggests Juliet Holt Klinger, senior director of dementia care. “These tips are about opening the lines of communication so you can partner with your parent for their care as they age.”

Holt Klinger suggests framing the conversation to put your parent in charge. The first question should be, “What are your long-term goals and how can I support them?” If your parent wants to stay in their house, but you noticed they are having issues keeping it clean, politely suggest hiring a cleaning service. If they are lonely, encourage outings or arrange for a weekly visitor. If they are interested in senior living, research places in the area and schedule tours.

“Always start with the positive. Acknowledge their wishes before making a suggestion,” said Holt Klinger.

Sometimes it only takes a bit more assistive care to allow a senior to “age in place” and maintain independence. There may be resources in the community that can help. But the first step is accepting that more needs to be done.

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