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When Going Home Brings an Unwelcome Discovery

If you leave your elderly parents' home worried after Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other winter holiday gathering, you're not alone. This is the time of year when many adults realize that their aging parents aren't doing as well as they thought they were.

Going home for the holidays is an annual rite loaded with meaning for adult children, particularly those who live out of town. This time-honored tradition, one of the few occasions when multiple generations gather under one roof, is often the first time that adult children may observe unmistakable signs of physical or cognitive decline in aging loved ones.

If you’re home for the holidays and you’re concerned about your parents, look for obvious signs of change. For example, consider it a red flag if your typically well-groomed mother has stains on her dress and disheveled hair, and she is not self-conscious about this. Watching your parent cross the room can be revealing. Is your dad as mobile as he used to be? Is mom struggling to get out of her chair?

All may not be well with mom and dad if you see any of the following signs:

  • Piles of unopened mail

  • Unpaid bills or notices from creditors

  • Carpet stains from dropping things

  • An odor of urine in the house

  • Insufficient or decaying food in the pantry or refrigerator

  • New dents in the car

  • Home maintenance items left undone

  • Changes in personal hygiene habits

  • Changes in the ability to engage in conversation

  • Changes in mood or personality

  • Dramatic weight change

  • Leaving belongings in strange places, like putting eyeglasses in the refrigerator

  • Frequent confusion/memory loss

  • Decreased judgment regarding finances

If you notice things that leave you concerned, what should you do next?

When people come to me with these concerns, I always advise against jumping to conclusions. There may be perfectly legitimate reasons for the changes you observed. If your siblings were there to observe your parents’ behavior, share your concerns with them. If your observations line up, or if your siblings have noticed additional problems, you’ll have an ally as you decide what to do next.

It may also be valuable to chat with your parents' neighbors, friends, and other members of their community like priests or pastors, to see if they have noticed any decline. While you’re still at your parents’ house, take a walk and introduce yourself to their neighbors, leaving your phone number and email address behind. Ask them to be comfortable contacting you if they become concerned.

At some point, you’ll want to talk to your parents about your concerns. When you do, brace yourself. Parents often respond in a fearful and confrontational way when approached by concerned children. It’s best to talk about their care needs in a way that enables them to identify the problem and come up with potential solutions. If the decline is physical, not cognitive, it is critical that your parents are the ones making the decision to seek help.

While it can be painful to admit that the people you have always depended on now need your help, it’s far less stressful than reacting to the crisis that almost inevitably happens if you wait.

If your holiday visits revealed all is not well with your elderly loved ones, Kimbrough Law can help you put together a plan of action. Just give us a call at 706.850.6910.


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