Holiday Visits: What to Watch for in Aging Parents
The holidays provide an opportunity for adult children, who may live out of town, to see their aging parents in their “natural habitat.” This gives adult children a chance to assess their parents’ health and well-being, evaluate their quality of life and determine whether their parents are able to care for themselves.
Parent Assessment over the Holidays
Use your holiday visit to assess various aspects of your parent’s health. Take time to look for health problems, mobility issues, social isolation and trouble performing activities of daily living.
Physical and Mental Health
During your holiday visit, assess your parent’s physical and mental health. Look for signs of trouble with vision, mobility and thinking skills.
Watch for signs of physical and mental health problems, such as:
- Weight loss
- Trouble with normal conversations, such as inability to understand or inappropriate responses
- Unusual new behaviors, such as repeating stories or seeming confused by simple things
- Squinting or inability to hear well
- Tripping over obstacles more than usual
- Bruises or other signs of accidents or falls
Note any problems with vision or hearing. The risk for a number of eye conditions increase after the age of 60, according to the American Optometric Association. Age-related eye conditions can include:
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Dry eye
- Retinal detachment
Signs of vision problems include squinting, trouble reading, problems seeing at night, loss of side vision and difficulty navigating.
Hearing loss affects about one-third of people between the ages of 65 and 74, according to the National Institute on Aging, and about half of those over 75 have trouble hearing. Signs of hearing loss include trouble hearing over the phone, difficulty following conversations involving two or more people, turning up the volume of the television to excessive levels, complaining that others mumble and trouble understanding what women and children say when they speak.
You may also notice memory problems in your parent. Some memory loss is a normal part of aging, but regularly forgetting events, places or people is not. That, along with losing items or placing them in strange locations (such as putting the car keys in the refrigerator) could be signs of dementia. For more information on dementia, including its signs and symptoms, see our About Dementia page.
Mobility: At Home and Behind the Wheel
Driving helps older adults stay independent, but it may also put them – and others on the road – at risk for vehicle accidents. The risk of being injured or killed in a vehicle accident rises with age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Involvement in fatal crashes begins to rise for drivers ages 70 to 74, and is highest among those 85 and over. The CDC says that the higher risk for injury or death is because as people age they are more susceptible to injury and medical complications from an accident. Age-related vision loss, declining ability to reason and remember, and other physical changes that accompany age may increase the risk of being in a car crash.
Assess your parent’s mobility outside the home. Has your parent maintained good driving skills? Do you feel comfortable letting your mother or father drive you to the grocery store? Are there unexplained dents or scratches on your parent’s car? How about traffic tickets? These could be signs that your parent is having trouble behind the wheel.
Social isolation is a serious problem for many older adults. Up to half of those over the age of 60 are at risk of social isolation, according to the medical journal BMJ, and about one-third of older adults experience social isolation at some time in their lives.
Social interaction is essential for good health. Social isolation increases the risk for illness and death, and can be as bad for health as smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and high blood pressure. Research shows an association between social isolation and poor resistance to infection, cognitive decline and increased risk of mental health conditions, such as dementia and depression. Social isolation is also associated with more emergency admissions to the hospital, longer hospital stays and delayed discharges.
Ask about your parent’s social life. Find out if your mom or dad still participates in his or her favorite activities, for example, or if they still keep up with friends and commitments to social organizations. Does your parent seem reluctant to leave the house?
Activities of Daily Living
Does the house seem dirtier since your last visit? Check the kitchen to see if the dishes are done and the garbage has been taken out. Has the floor been swept or vacuumed recently? Is your parent wearing clean clothes?
If your parent’s home was clean during your last visit but dirty this time around, your mom or dad may have trouble carrying out the normal activities of daily living.
Check for poor hygiene. Give your parent the ‘sniff test’ during the next hug. Look for combed hair, brushed teeth and clean skin.
Jot down your findings and, if you have concerns about the well-being of your parent, plan to talk with the rest of your family. While you may want to keep things lighthearted during the holidays, it is essential that you take action to ensure the health and safety of your mother or father.
The holidays are a great time for visiting family – and the perfect time to assess the health and well-being of an aging parent. The Brielle helps bring peace of mind to family members throughout the year through full-service assisted living and memory care in a park-like setting on Staten Island. Our trained staff provides on-site medical oversight to assure the highest level of care, safety and well-being you and your family expect during the holidays and every day of the year.
Contact us online or give us a call at 929-256-3005 if you have questions about your parents and their well-being, or if you’d like to learn more about our supportive living options.