What to Look for at Your Parent’s House During the Holidays

It's been months since you last went home to see Mom, maybe longer. You still communicate with her, and perhaps you notice a few quirks over the phone – Mom’s often repeating herself and seems unusually agitated. And despite your best intentions, it’s easy to forget about all of that when you hang up the phone and return to your life.

But now that everyone’s coming home for the holidays, your family will have an opportunity to discover what your aging parent probably won’t ever tell you: she needs help.

If you’re going home for the holidays to an aging parent, know what to look for to determine if he or she could use some help. The following list is a good place to start:

1) An Obvious Change in Weight

If your loved one is looking much thinner, don't dismiss this as a change in diet. It may not be an intentional change, and the weight loss could be a result of forgetting to make food or struggling to eat. Talk to your mom about her eating habits. Know that she may be sensitive to the idea of receiving help, so don't stop probing just because she’s being stubborn.

2) Mounting Unpaid Bills

If you notice a stack of unpaid bills piling up in your parent’s home or mailbox, that could also be a sign something is wrong. Ask your mom why the bills haven’t been paid and figure out what's preventing her from paying them.

Is your parent dismissing due dates or not taking his or her finances seriously? Does her reason for not paying the bills sound illogical? Those are other warning signs along with the unpaid bills.

But don't consider the matter closed once the bills are paid. Instead, realize this may only continue happening going forward, and if your mom remains living on her own, you may have to start remembering her bills’ due dates along with your own.

3) Spoiled Food Being Kept

Noticing foul odors coming from the kitchen or fridge? Wondering why Mom is holding onto brown fruit that's gone bad or food in the fridge that's been expired for weeks?

It’s probably not intentional. Talk about it, as it's a good opportunity to discover information your aging parent may be withholding.

4) New Scratches or Dents on the Car

If you notice damage to your parent’s vehicle that wasn’t there before, ask what happened. This could arguably be more important than any other sign.

Per the Center for Disease Control, involvement in fatal crashes begins increasing among drivers ages 70‒74 and is highest among drivers ages 85 and older. That’s due more to an increased susceptibility to injury and medical complications among older drivers rather than an increased risk of crash involvement.

If your parent is on the road and shouldn’t be, not only is she risking self-harm, but also putting any other driver on the road at risk. Your intervention here could significantly reduce the chances of anything serious happening.

5) Frequent Changes in Mood, Personality

Is Mom behaving erratically? Are you noticing sudden changes in mood, or is your elderly mother acting differently?

Use clues to assess your loved one as well. Has Mom put things where they obviously don’t go? Did you find a pair of glasses in the fridge? Is there food in the bathroom medicine cabinet?

These could be signs of dementia – signs you should not ignore. Ask your parent about this behavior and pay attention to the response. It could be a sign she desperately needs help.

Most Often, Aging Parents Won’t Ask for Help

If you’re reluctant to bring these symptoms up because your parent isn’t asking for help, you may be doing her a grave disservice. You may be unintentionally denying an opportunity for assistance.

You wouldn’t be alone either – no one likes talking about this stuff. In fact, per a study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, 75 percent of adults haven't had an in-depth discussion with their parents about things like living arrangements in retirement, long-term care, inheritance and funeral wishes.

It’s important to remain vigilant in assessing your loved one's situation this holiday season. And for help on having that awkward conversation, click here.

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