Has this happened to you? It’s the holiday season and you head back to your hometown to see Mom and Dad for the annual family gathering. Once you’re there, you notice that things seem a little off. Maybe the house is looking cluttered (and that’s never been the case before). Or you peek into the garage and notice that the car is looking a little banged up. There may be a stack of old mail sitting on the counter. When did this all happen, and is it something you should be concerned about?
“Some members of your family may only see the older generation a few times a year due to distance, job responsibilities and more,” says Vanessa DiPaolo, Director of Sales at The Terraces at Bonita Springs, the only Life Plan Community for senior living in the Bonita Springs area. “If you haven’t seen your aging parents in a while, you may be surprised and perhaps shocked at some of the changes you see while visiting.”
It can be hard to really get a feel of how your senior parents are doing at home if you don’t live near them, Vanessa says. And phone calls and video chats can’t give the full scope of how well – or not – your parents are living on their own.
“The holidays are a chance for you to do an actual check-up on your parents and see if living on their own is starting to become difficult,” she says. “Consider talking things through with them to get a clearer picture and get a feel for what might help. If you have siblings or other family members involved in their lives, connect with them as well to form a plan and some options on how to help your older loved one.”
Warning Signs to Watch for This Holiday Season
You know your parents and your parents’ needs better than anyone, so there’s no one checklist that will definitely point to “yes, they need more help” or “no, they’re doing fine.” However, if you notice more than one of these eight signs when you’re visiting this year, it may signify that they need a little extra help to stay safe and healthy.
- Piles of unopened mail (especially unopened bills or letters).
Your parents are always timely about going through correspondence and paying their bills, so if you see stacks of unopened mail sitting around, try to figure out why. Have they been so busy getting ready for family holiday gatherings that they just haven’t gotten around to it for a few days? Or are you seeing envelopes piled sky-high with FINAL NOTICE stamped across them? Unopened mail that stretches back more than a few days can signal financial issues or physiological issues like vision loss or even cognitive impairment. Before jumping to any conclusions, you should talk to your parents and find out what the root cause may be.
- Dents and damage to vehicles or garages.
Surprising new dents and dings in your parents’ cars may signal that your loved one’s driving skills aren’t what they used to be. Try and go on a ride with your parents to see how their driving skills are. Are they drifting across lanes, driving more slowly than usual or not performing tasks like looking behind them when backing up? These can all be signs that it’s no longer safe for them to drive. Unfortunately, that’s not a conversation that’s comfortable or easy to have, but there are many solutions available these days that can help with transportation.
- A less-than-put-together appearance.
How are your parents looking? If everything is going well, your loved ones should have similar grooming and personal appearance standards as they did the last time you saw them. However, if physical issues or cognitive difficulties have set in, your loved ones may have lost or gained a significant amount of weight, they’re wearing dirty clothes, their hair is unkempt and they overall aren’t looking put together. If you notice any of these changes, it’s probably time to plan a visit to a physician to find out the root cause of the symptoms.
- An unkempt or dirty home.
The home doesn’t have to be as shiny as a new penny when you arrive, but generally, your parents keep their house at a certain cleanliness standard. If you take a look around and realize that their housekeeping standards have significantly slipped, this may be a sign that they need help keeping the house in order. Look specifically for dust and clutter, mold, mildew, pests and expired food in the fridge and pantry.
- An empty pantry and refrigerator.
Speaking of the kitchen and food, take a look at how well-stocked your parents are. Is their fridge modestly full of everything two people need on a regular basis? Or does their setup look more like a poor college student? If the cabinets are looking increasingly bare, it’s possible that getting to the grocery store or preparing meals has become too difficult. This is particularly alarming because seniors require certain nutritional standards in order for them to remain healthy.
- Unmanaged medication.
As we get older, we tend to take more medicines at more times of the day. Although looking through your parents’ medicine cabinet can feel weird, it’s a good idea to get a baseline understanding of what they’re taking, what side effects can be caused and what drug interactions to watch for. If you notice that your parents aren’t taking their medicines on a scheduled basis, or if they have expired or unopened prescription bottles, it’s possible that they are forgetting or choosing to not take their prescribed medicines.
- Unexplained bruises or injuries.
Any injuries that your loved one can’t or is unwilling to explain is a cause for concern. Accidental falls, trips and other accidents can happen as we age due to mobility issues, weakness and other issues. Accidents can also happen due to medication side effects or other external issues.
- Personality changes or mood swings.
While you’re examining your parents’ physical health, be sure to pay attention to their emotional and mental health, too. Are they happy and seeming normal, or are they detached, depressed or acting in an unexpected way? Anxiety and depression are common among seniors, but they can also signal a more lingering issue like cognitive decline or an underlying health issue.
Although you may notice these or other signs that concern you, it’s best to not bring it up during the actual holiday gathering, says Vanessa. “After the celebration is over, you can spend some time with your family and parents discussing the situation,” she says. “There will be fewer distractions, you’ll have more time to research options and the hustle and bustle of the gathering won’t be a distraction.”
About The Terraces at Bonita Springs
Recreation, special events, holiday celebrations, educational programs, guest speakers, and a variety of inspiring activities take place throughout the year at The Terraces at Bonita Springs as part of the community’s active lifestyle programs. The Terraces is the only Life Plan Community for senior living in the Bonita Springs area. Living choices include independent living, assisted living, memory support, skilled nursing and rehabilitation. All levels of care, including assisted living, skilled nursing and memory support, are open for direct admittance with no entrance fee.
For more information, visit TheTerracesAtBonitaSprings.com or call 239-221-8907.