Home for the Holidays: Watching for Warning Signs

For most, the holiday season means getting together to spend time with family and loved ones. For adult children who live far away from their elderly parents, it may be the only time of the year that they get to spend quality time with mom or dad. The holidays provide an opportunity for you to have those “must-have” conversations with your elderly loved ones and other family members about care options and planning for the future. You will also have the chance to watch for any warning signs that your senior loved one needs care sooner rather than later.

What are these “must-have” conversations and why are they essential? One is end-of-life care planning. While it seems like a dreary conversation to have, it is one that is essential when it comes to your family’s peace of mind. While estate planning is important, you should also consider creating an Advance Healthcare Directive, which lays out your loved one’s medical wishes in a life-or-death situation. It also appoints an agent to speak on their behalf.

Are your loved ones financially prepared for the possibility of needing long term care? What is their “aging plan” – would they prefer to stay in their home no matter what, or is an assisted living community an option? Discussing your loved ones’ needs, wishes, and options will include them in the preparations for the likelihood of needing long term care, whether it’s needed next week or 20 years from now.

Dr. Melissa Henston, a geriatric psychologist in private practice with Colorado NeuroBehavioral Health, said it’s important to tread carefully when starting these conversations. “Typically you need to look for the opening and opportunity, rather than just jumping in,” she said. “Don’t try to take control. Try to get a natural conversation going.” Henston also said to still respect the parent-child relationship. She suggests setting the right tone by sitting in a comfortable location, starting with a normal and conversational tone, and asking open-ended questions to start the flow of conversation.

“Elderly loved ones usually appreciate an honest conversation,” Henston said. “If you discuss that it’s important to communicate their wishes for retirement and end-of-life care, you’ll go farther than if you are condescending or dishonest.”

Spending time with your loved one, especially in their home, also gives you a chance to evaluate their physical, mental, and emotional health, and to spot any warning signs that they may need assistance.  It’s usually easy to tell if there are problems – you will quickly notice if things seem “off” or out of the ordinary. A few things to look out for are:

  • Poor diet or weight loss
  • Unpaid bills or trouble keeping up with finances
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Mobility issues – getting in and out of chairs, difficulty balancing, walking slowly
  • Unkempt house, clutter, and laundry piling up
  • Forgetting to take medications
  • Unexplained dents or scratches on the car
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Spoiled/expired groceries

If you notice any of the red flags above, it is crucial to start those “must-have” conversations, no matter how difficult it seems. Ignoring these warning signs often puts families in difficult situations when a crisis occurs, especially those without any plans in place.  This holiday season may be the best time for you to talk to your family and senior loved ones about planning for the future. While the topics can be difficult, the peace of mind they provide is priceless.




Written by Taylor French, Amada contributor. 

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