Checking on Your Parents While Home for the Holidays

Checking on Elderly SeniorQuestion: I’m going back home for the holidays to visit my parents and want to make sure everything is okay. What should I look for? 

Answer: Going home for the holidays offers you a perfect opportunity to quietly assess how things are going for your parents. It also offers you the chance to help them out and prevent problems in the future. Here is my “Home for the Holidays Checklist.”

Five Things to Look For: 

1. Look around the house. Are household bills piling up and is mail left unopened? This could be a sign that the simple tasks of writing bills, balancing a checkbook and keeping track of due dates is becoming overwhelming. Do you see scorched pots and pans? Is the house more un-kept than usual? All of these signs could flag a decrease in thinking skills, decreased vision, and/or the inability to be physically active.

2. Check out the refrigerator. Is the well-stocked with fresh produce and meats or do you see signs of a very poor diet and moldy, expired food products? When you take them out to eat, are they eating a lot less and showing little interest in food? Do they appear to have lost weight? These could be signs that they are becoming malnourished. Poor diet can exacerbate chronic diseases, lead to a weakened immune system and increase the risk of dementia.

3. Ask them about their social life. When was the last time they went out with friends? Went out to eat? Went to church? Did the things they loved doing? If you find them reluctant to leave the house, this could be a sign that they are having a hard time driving, moving about, seeing, or hearing so they’d rather stay home. This could lead to loneliness and depression. Find out what’s causing them to disengage.

4. Let them take you for a drive. If your parents are still driving, you might do well to let them drive so that you can assess their driving skills. You should especially do this if you see dents or scratches on the car, or if your parent has received recent speeding or traffic tickets.

5. Check out their medications. Are expired pill bottles mixed in with current ones? Are the pills organized to prevent taking the wrong ones? Are they taking more than 5 medications? Can you hold a coherent conversation? Do they keep repeating the same story? Confusion, dizziness and signs of dementia can be caused by medications or taking the wrong combinations of drugs.