My Parents Aren’t As Healthy As I Thought

The holiday season is the time that families gather together, often from long distances. If you haven’t seen your parents in a while, you may notice they are aging more than you remembered. Here are some things to watch for the next time you visit.


Physical Appearance: Is your parent clean and presentable? Not keeping up with daily routines could be a result of physical, mental, or emotional decline. Do you notice any weight loss? Cooking may have become difficult. Also, some medications can affect taste and cause a lack of appetite. Pay attention to how your parent walks. Is balance or gait a problem? Unsteadiness can increase the risk of falling, which can result in serious injury.


Home Environment: If your parent has always maintained the yard, home repairs, a clean house and paid bills on time, a neglected yard or repairs, a cluttered or dirty house, or stack of unpaid bills could be clues that things are not quite right. Is your parent able to handle their medications? Should they be driving?


Memory Loss: Everyone loses their keys or forgets things occasionally. But having trouble with common words, getting lost in a familiar neighborhood, or not being able to follow directions could be indications of something serious. By the way, it’s not always dementia—a urinary tract infection that can be cured with antibiotics, other medical issue, or even a medication can often present with memory loss or confusion.


Emotional Well-Being: Watch for signs of depression, including withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, or loss of interest in hobbies.


What can you do?

  1. If you see things that concern you, talk to your parent. Have an honest conversation about what you are noticing and see if they are aware of any changes.
  2. Encourage regular medical check-ups and possibly a medical assessment. You may want to go with your parent and discuss results and suggestions with the doctor.
  3. Address any safety issues and prioritize a to-do list. Simple things like adding non-slip pads under rugs or installing handicap bars in a bathroom can prevent falls. Medic alert systems are also valuable.
  4. Identify all available resources. (Also see #6 below.) Maybe you need to hire a housekeeper, someone to run errands, or a home health aide.
  5. If you have siblings, involve them if possible.
  6. Make a list of medications, doctors, and medical issues.
  7. Make sure your parent has all appropriate legal documents, including financial and healthcare powers of attorney and estate planning documents. An Elder Law attorney can be a valuable resource as he/she has walked this road before with other families, and can help with securing benefits from the VA and Medicaid, if applicable.
  8. Long-term care insurance can help preserve your parents’ finances and yours. But don’t wait too long; your parent could become uninsurable.


Above all, you want your parent to have as much independence and participation as possible. Be reassuring in what can be a scary time for many people. Remind them that you care about them and want them to be happy, healthy and safe—now and as far into the future as possible.