It can be hard to tell how your senior parents are really doing at home when you don’t live near them. It’s one thing to talk on the phone or video chat, but going home for the holidays gives you a chance to check-in on their wellbeing while you catch up with everyone.
Here are a few subtle — and not-so-subtle — signs that your parents may need some extra help to stay healthy and safe:
1. Do they have piles of unopened mail?
If your folks have always been organized but now you see stacks of unopened bills or letters sitting around, try to find out why. Maybe they’ve just been busy getting ready for the holidays, but unopened mail — especially if it dates back more than a few days — can also be a sign of cognitive impairment, financial problems your folks may not know how to handle, or vision loss.
Possible solutions: If Dad or Mom has trouble reading the mail, an eye exam is in order. If financial or memory issues are to blame, it’s time to talk to your parents about having another family member or a professional daily money manager help them manage their bills and mail.
2. Do you see damage to your parents’ garage or vehicles?
New dents on their cars or scrapes on the garage walls can be signs that your folks’ driving skills are declining. Try to ride with your parents during your stay to see how they drive now. Drifting across lanes, driving much more slowly than normal and not turning to look while backing up are signs that driving may no longer be safe for them.
Possible solutions: No one looks forward to the driving conversation with a parent, but there are ways to make it less stressful and more productive. Research alternate transportation options, talk with other relatives first and be prepared to have more than one talk about scaling back or stopping driving.
3. How do your parents look?
Your senior parents’ personal grooming standards should be about the same during this visit as the last time you saw them in person. If you notice changes for the worse this visit — dirty clothes, hair, or noticeable weight loss — cognitive impairment or physical limitations may be the cause.
Possible solutions: This sign is worth a visit to the doctor. Memory loss may be causing your parent to forget to bathe, change clothes or eat. Mobility issues like arthritis and neuropathy can make some activities of daily living too painful for your parents to handle on their own. Depending on what their doctor recommends, your parents may need an in-home aide or a move to assisted living.
4. How’s your parents’ pet?
Pets can be a great source of companionship, but caring for pets can get tougher as we age. If you see really long claws and matted fur on Fido, a birdcage that’s long overdue for a cleaning or an overflowing litter box, your folks may be having some challenges with pet care. For their sake and for their pet’s, it’s probably time to get some help.
Possible solutions: Dog-walking services, mobile pet groomers and vets who make house calls can take care of the checkups and chores and leave your parents free to enjoy their pet’s company.
5. Is your parents’ home about as clean as the last time you visited?
Your folks don’t have to have a spotless house, especially when they’ve been getting ready to host company. However, if their housekeeping has slipped noticeably since your last visit, they may need some help. Mildew and mold, pantry pests and spoiled food are signs that your folks need another set of hands and eyes to keep their home clean and safe.
Possible solutions: If there’s not a family member nearby who’s able and willing to help out, consider hiring a cleaning service or an in-home aide to clean on a regular basis.
If you notice any of these signs or others that concern you, remember that your family’s holiday gathering is probably not the best setting to hash out a solution. It may be more productive to talk things over with your parents and other family members when there are fewer distractions and you have more time to research options.