Home for the Holidays: Warning Signs That Your Parents are Aging—and How to Talk About It
Warning Signs for Adult Children When Visiting Aging Parents
For many Americans with busy schedules living far away, the holidays might be one of the only times—if not the only time—during the year when they actually see their parents in person. Sometimes the passing of just one year can bring about dramatic differences in your older loved ones’ health and appearance; the signs of aging can seem to suddenly come “out of the blue.”
Though everyone expects these changes to come sooner or later, it can still come as a shock when the reality of aging is fully seen. How do you know which changes mean that it’s time to intervene more seriously in a loved one’s care and decision-making? How do you handle broaching the subject when your parents are used to taking care of themselves and may be in denial of their changing bodies and minds?
Here are some “red flags” to look for when you visit your parents at their home:
- Appearance: look for bruises (signs of a fall), messy clothes, poor hygiene, body odor, noticeable weight loss
- Movement: watch for signs of pain or unsteadiness/difficulty with balance or mobility
- Living conditions: atypical clutter/messiness, overgrown gardens, stacks of unopened mail, spoiled food that hasn't been thrown away, scorched pan bottoms when food has been forgotten on the stove, a smell of urine in the home
- Prescriptions: pills kept past their expiration dates, forgetting to take medication or order refills, or taking more than the recommended dosage
- Memory: forgetting common conversational words or getting lost in familiar environments, missed appointments and unpaid bills, confusion when performing routine tasks
- Personality changes: moodiness, mood swings or depression (which could be caused by prescription side effects), loss of interest in hobbies
- Driving: unexplained dents or scratches on a car
If you notice such indicators that the burdens of aging have become too much for your parents, you will want to express your concerns and ideas with them in a safe place at the right time, with no distractions and when you can be fully present.
It is better to start these conversations before your mother or father’s memory deteriorates. Be direct but also respectful, listening to their feedback and being sensitive to any fears they might have; do not try to rush them or start making plans for their future in an overbearing or insensitive way.
The “driving talk” can be one of the most difficult due to the loss of independence that giving up one’s drivers license symbolizes, and might need to be handled over the course of multiple conversations—but should never include, “Give me the keys.” Be compassionate, and let your parents know that you are there to help them and partner with them to find the best solutions possible for their well-being, not to infantilize them or assume control over their lives.