Many adult children will travel to visit with their aging parents over the holidays.  If it has been a while since the last visit and you live at a distance, you can use the visit as an opportunity to assess how your parents are getting along in addition to having a lovely holiday visit.

Observe whether your parents look healthy.

  • Have they lost weight?
  • Gained a lot of weight?
  • What about hygiene?
  • Are there odors in the home or on their person?
  • Is their hair clean and well groomed?
  • What about shaving, fingernails, oral cleanliness?
  • How is their ambulation?
  • Do they seem to need to hold onto a chair and then the next piece of furniture and then the wall when they are walking?



If they are supposed to be taking medications, do they take medicine while you are visiting?  You can look at pill bottles for dates that the medications were filled and how many pills were dispensed and do the math.

  • You can call or visit the pharmacy to see if their records indicate problems with remembering refills in a timely fashion.
  • You can ask your parents about medical appointments to learn whether they are seeing a physician regularly.

Have a meal or two together.

  • Help with the preparation and take the opportunity to look in the refrigerator for spoiled foods.  Same for the pantry – are there rotten potatoes or onions?
  • Are canned goods well past “Best By” dates?


See if you can determine changes in their usual social habits.

  • If they were always reclusive, do they continue to be?
  • Do they have new “friends” that seem to be hanging around?
  • If getting together with friends, going to church, playing cards, etc. was important, are they still engaging in these activities?


  • Take a trip in the car together, letting the elder parent drive.
  • Do they still seem to have good driving skills?

Other Red Flags

  • Is the work/desk area overflowing with papers, bills, etc.?  Any evidence of shut off  utilities?
  • Is your parent repeating him/herself often?
  • Do they seem to not remember something you just talked about?
  • Are they having difficulty completing familiar tasks?
  • Are memory issues impacting daily life?
  • Are they having difficulty with planning, doing multiple step processes, or solving problems?

If there is a parent without a spouse living alone? Perhaps this is the time to talk about emergency alert buttons in case there is an emergency or a fall in the home.

If you have concerns, talk to your parents about the issues.  Perhaps bringing in a geriatric care manager to provide a formal, comprehensive assessment would provide peace of mind.  As eldercare consultants, the geriatric care manager can recommend elder care resources to provide support services in the home.

Cheryl Hawkins Theriault and the staff at Aging Family Services, Inc. wish you all a healthy, safe Holiday season and a joyous, prosperous New Year.