This past Thanksgiving, my co-worker Jenn went home to visit her mother in Virginia Beach, Va. Jenn usually talks to her mother on the phone a least once a week, and her mother almost always says she is doing well. While it had been nearly a year since her last visit, my co-worker had no reason not to believe her mother. However upon Jenn’s arrival, she noticed her mother had lost weight since last year. And when Jenn looked inside the fridge, she found it empty except for a few rotten pieces of fruit. Knowing her mother well, Jenn knew this was not normal. Her mother usually had a fridge full of food ready to entertain anyone who may stop by.
There were other troublesome signs. Her mother, who is 83, could not seem to remember what day of the week it was and there was a pile of old, unread newspapers on the front porch.
Going home for the holidays is emotionally significant for adult children, particularly those who live out of town. It remains a time of togetherness and love, but it is also an opportunity to observe your parents’ physical and mental health to determine if they are thriving or requiring greater assistance.
What to Look For
- A change in mobility
- New dents in their car
- Spoiled food in the fridge or little food (especially if this is abnormal)
- Frequent confusion/memory loss
- Obvious weight change
- Unopened bills; stack of unread mail
- Forgetting the names of household items
- Decreased judgment regarding finances
- Misplacing items
- Frequent changes in mood and personality
Try to avoid jumping to conclusions. If your parents are hosting the family get-together, they may be stressed and tired from days of preparation. After the holidays, share your concerns with siblings and family relatives. They may have noticed additional problems or have a different perspective on how to approach the situation.
Next, investigate what services are available in your parent’s community, such as adult daycare programs, homecare or cleaning services. Understanding the available care options will be extremely helpful in the conversation you have with your loved ones.
Talking to Your Parents
Before you sit down with your parents, be sure you have specific examples of changes in their behavior or health. Then, offer strategies to help them remain independent.
Even if you and your parents are close, do not expect to resolve matters in one meeting. It may take multiple conversations. Parents can feel anxious and confrontational when approached by concerned family. Reassure them by explaining that your goal is not to make decisions for them, but to guide them and help them maintain as much control as possible.
The good news is that there are often simple measures you can take to enable your parents to remain independent as long as possible, like installing a grab bar in the shower or hiring a home health aide a few days a week. You should also schedule a visit with their doctor. Informing the doctor about new concerns can shed light to underlying health conditions that may be treatable or preventable.
Keep In Mind…Becoming aware of potential health problems does not necessarily mean that your parent has to go to a long- term care facility. It can be hard for adult children to admit that the people they grew up leaning on for support now need their help. But with proactive actions, you can help your loved-ones remind independent and healthy longer.