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Visiting Aging Parents Over the Holidays May Raise Red Flags – Richmond, VA

- Thursday, December 18, 2014

When generations reunite, new concerns may arise, requiring action to help failing elders.

It’s the first thing you notice when you come home for the holidays: Mom’s normally immaculate house is full of clutter. Or Dad’s mail has gone unopened for weeks and he looks disheveled.

As families come together, often after months apart, it’s not unusual for adult children to discover a parent’s health has declined significantly and to suddenly be filled with panic.

“They may find that the house is messy, and there are unfilled prescriptions,” said Jean Wood, executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging. “Or they may find that there’s no food in the refrigerator. There are a whole variety of things they find.”

Phone calls to state organization’s and call centers double and sometimes triple between late November and the end of January as children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews visit their elders.

The shock can touch off a volley of difficult questions, concerns and family conflict.

Aging remains a “taboo subject” in most families, said Gayle Kvenvold, CEO of an association of organizations that serve seniors. Aging is often equated with loss — not being able to drive, being forced to leave one’s home or community, losing independence.

It often takes a crisis to force families to swing into action.

Senior housing and assisted-living centers see a “flurry of admissions” around Thanksgiving and Christmas, “because people realize something is wrong.”

Red flags might include an empty refrigerator, stacks of unopened mail, unwashed clothes or a lack of hygiene. Changes in weight or lack of balance can signal underlying medical conditions. Loss of interest in hobbies may be a sign of depression. Scorched cookware suggests that burners may have been turned on and forgotten.

Experts say even if there are no immediate health or aging concerns, the holidays can be a good time to start talking about finances, health care and living arrangements that keep older family members safe.

If you’re in the beginning phases [of decline], start talking about important things now.

Even start thinking about yourself. Get papers organized and leave documentation for your own children.

Some situations require taking immediate steps, but not always. Even if adult children are worried about a parent’s declining ability, experts caution that bringing up concerns at the dinner table can quickly backfire. It’s best to arm yourself with information before diving in.

For more information on assisted living, contact Spring Arbor.