Some parents will ask for help if they recognize that they are starting to struggle, but many aging parents will not want anyone to know.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FGSA, FAAN
For adult children who do not live close to their aging parents, the holidays can be a good time to visit to make sure things are good as they seem. In addition to staying connected throughout the year by phone or Zoom calls, a personal visit may give you more information that things are ok – or confirm any suspicions you may have had that there is truly a problem.
Many of these suspicions may be around whether or not your parent – or parents – are becoming more forgetful or if they are becoming more frail and unable to keep up with everything independently.
Some parents will ask for help if they recognize they are starting to struggle, but many aging parents will not want anyone to know because it means a potential threat to their independence and/or autonomy. The holidays create a time to get together, and it’s an excellent opportunity for adult children to check in and see how their aging parents are really doing.
In this episode of This Is Getting Old: Moving Towards An Age-Friendly World, I’ll share with you four things to look for during your holiday visits this year that may be warning signs that you need to dig deeper to find out what’s going on.
I will list them in order of least invasive to most invasive…and keep in mind that you do want to respect the dignity, privacy, and autonomy of your loved one – and these need to be investigated from a place of concern – not to undermine your parents. It’s a thin line, so listen to your intuition if you suspect a problem and engage your loved one in the process as much as possible.
Open communication is always the best approach, and you look for differences from the last time you saw them.
Key points covered in this episode:
✔️ Tip #1: Give Them a Hug
Clues that things are changing aren’t always visible from a distance, so a hug may tell you more without setting off any alarms that you’re concerned about.
Does the person look like they’ve lost weight – or gained weight for that matter – without trying?
Do they look different or seem to not be quite as put together as they usually are?
This may be as subtle as someone who was once an impeccable dresser greeting you at the door looking a little disheveled.
✔️ Tip #2: What’s the Kitchen Look Like?
My Mom has always told me that the kitchen is the heart of the home. Think about what the kitchen has always looked like and compare any differences you see.
Are there multiple items of the same thing in the refrigerator?
Is the freezer stocked with frozen dinners or ice cream?
Is the pantry that has always been impeccably organized now a mess?
✔️ Tip #3: Ask About Their Social Life
Has that changed if your parent – or parents were always socially active? And if it has, ask them why?
Ask about hobbies you know they’ve always had and if they are still doing them – or if they’ve found new hobbies.
Do they have friends that they go out with – and ask when they last got together and what they did.
✔️ Tip #4: Look For Any Visible Mail
The mail may explain how your parents manage their bills or if they are being/ have been scammed.
Is there a pile of unopened mail?
Do you see letters from banks or creditors? Or thank you letters from charities?
✔️ How To Catch More Flies With Honey?
These four tips are a starting point for a conversation about how things are going at home – how they are really going. If anything looks alarming or unsafe, it would be good to find out when they last saw their primary care provider.
Create a safe space to discuss what’s concerning you and listen to the answers. My Mom taught me that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar…so be kind, observant, and listen.
Also, talk to other people close to them – friends, neighbors, or other families who visit regularly. These signs could indicate a bigger problem, but get others involved to learn more about anything that concerns you before making an assumption that there is a memory or thinking problem.
✔️ Additional Resources
You can check out some of these related episodes:
- How To Talk To Someone You Think May Have A Memory Problem
- 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
- How Alzheimer’s is Diagnosed?
If you have questions, or comments or need help, please feel free to drop a one-minute audio or video clip and email it to me at email@example.com, and I will get back to you by recording an answer to your question.
More Resources About Memory And Alzheimer’s Disease …
This Is Getting Old has several other episodes about memory and Alzheimer’s. You can check them out below:
- EP: 65 – What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease? Part I: Symptoms of Early- and Late-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
- EP: 66 – What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease? Part II: Symptoms of Late- and End-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
- EP: 64 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Living Alone: Four Signs Someone May Not Be Safe at Home Alone
- EP: 63 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Driving: Five Signs That It’s Time to Take the Keys
- EP 38: Ten Tips for Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (‘96) and Master of Science in Nursing (‘00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I truly enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home and office visits) then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer.
I obtained my PhD in Nursing and a post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing (2011) ) and then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 and led to me joining the faculty at George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor where I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health and Humanities.
Find out more about her work HERE.