Home for the Holidays: Evaluating Your Parents’ Well-Being

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Last Thanksgiving, Eliza Kendall visited her parents at her childhood home in Darien, Conn. They had both lost weight since she last saw them, her mother most noticeably. And when Kendall looked inside their oven, she found an uneaten pizza.

“Reality hits you right in the face when you go home,” says Kendall, 54, of Harwich, Mass.

There were other worrisome signs. Kendall’s mother, who is 81, was repeating herself. “Dad was having trouble with very simple tasks, like doing his bills. He’d stopped doing his crossword puzzles.”

Going home for the holidays has layers of significance for adult children, particularly those who live out of town. It remains a time of togetherness and love, but it’s also an opportunity to observe your parents’ physical and mental health to determine if they’re thriving or require greater assistance.

“You are looking for any obvious signs of change,” says Roger Baumgart, CEO of Home Instead Senior Care, a network of Home Care agencies based in Omaha, Ne. For example, it’s clearly 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, says Baumgart. “Are they as mobile? Are they struggling more to get out of a chair?”