Thanksgiving is so close that we can almost smell the turkey and many of our middles are stirring with a strange mix of excited nostalgia and restless nerves. We can’t wait to see the nice china that only makes an appearance once a year and to throw around the football which, without the tradition, we may never make time for. However, we are also wondering what our Uncle Paul is going to say after his third eggnog and if mom is ever going to let go of the frozen turkey incident. For those of us with aging parents, one of our more important concerns is noticing differences in our loved ones when we visit. Perhaps they have a harder time remembering to turn the oven off, they are struggling with their mobility, or they keep calling baby Kate her mother’s name. And while some of us would like to write this off as “dad being dad” and tease him for new grey hairs, it is important that we pay close attention to the wellness of our loved ones when we see them during the holidays.
Here are some things to keep an eye out for when you are with them this holiday season:
Uncleanliness – if the home is increasingly cluttered or dirty, your parent could be having difficulty with their eyesight or their mobility or their motivation, among a number of other reasons. If things have gotten worse, it can cause problems such as falls and illness.
Spoiled groceries – Thanksgiving can be a tricky time to notice this problem because, most likely, the fridge has been cleaned out to make way for an abundance of leftovers. However, it is still important to look out for and it is easily missed. Spoiled groceries left in the fridge can be sign of depression or forgetfulness or even simply a decline in their sense of smell. Whatever the reason, it can pose a dangerous threat because it can make them sick and serve as a sign for something more ominous.
Unexplained bruising – keep a sharp eye out for arms and legs to make sure there aren’t any injuries like scrapes, cuts, burns or bruises. These could be signs of any number of things from problems with mobility, forgetfulness, or even elder abuse.
Late payments – if your parent will let you take a look at their mail and their finances – great. But, more often than not, there will be a little resistance – especially if a problem is brewing. Without outright snooping, ask your parent if you can take a look through their recent mail and check to see if there are any letters of missed payments or final notices. If you are genuinely concerned about their finances – offer to look over things every once in a while and make sure they know it is judgement-free.
Personal hygiene – admittedly, this can be a sensitive topic. These can all be sensitive topics, but this one has an added degree of embarrassment, so be aware of the way you approach it. Good hygiene is essential for your loved one’s wellness. Teeth, foot, skin, and general cleanliness must not be neglected. Additionally, sudden drops in hygiene could be a sign that something more serious is going on.
Unexplained dents or scratches in car – if your elderly parent is still driving, there may be cause for concern, not only for their safety, but for the safety of others on the road. Changes in eyesight or concentration can make for a very dangerous driver. Giving up the keys can be hard for most as it signifies a change in their independence. However, for their safety and everyone else’s, make sure to address your concerns and be ready to make a firm decision about the future of their driving, if needed.
Low energy/lack of interest – a lack of interest in things that used to make them happy, an increase in hours spent in front of mindless TV, no motivation to see loved ones or get breakfast with friends like they used to can be signs of depression – a diagnosis that is growing exponentially among the elderly. This is a very serious concern and should be dealt with properly. Speak to their doctor about what can be done and keep in mind that “sadness” does not automatically equal depression and vice versa. Depression takes many forms and while we constantly insist on equating the two, people who are genuinely suffering and could receive help are being missed because they don’t fit the profile, so many associate with this diagnosis.
Keep a close eye out for all of these things while you are home enjoying the holiday and make note of anything that seems out of the ordinary. Consider your options to help your aging parent. Even if they are not ready for a change, now, things happen quickly and leave you scrambling at a very difficult time to figure out a safer situation for the ones you love. Look into options for in-home care or visiting nurses. Offer to attend their doctor’s appointments to gain better information and ensure they aren’t missed. Have a plan in place should they fall and injure themselves.
Also, keep in mind that if you are someone who sees your parents more than a sibling who lives further away, listen to what each other has to say. Sometimes, it is harder to see changes when you are there all the time to witness their evolution. A fresh pair of eyes can bring to light things that you may have missed. It is not your fault – it’s absolutely normal, but it important that everyone listen to each other and take things seriously so that your loved one can receive the best help.