Mom got older while I was away

Bethany: Is your house on fire, Clark?  Clark: No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights.  (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)

For many families, holiday visits include much more than football, food and Christmas Vacation.

In fact, becoming aware of changes in aging parents, aunts or uncles, or friends, while an emotional time, becomes a valuable opportunity to observe your aging loved ones. Changes can be noted, conversations can begin, and living options that can offer safety and support can be considered.

Doing so with a positive, accepting, and supportive attitude will make the time much easier on everyone, especially aging loved ones. 

Keep the spirit of the holidays. Enjoy time spent with loved ones.

(If you are facing this situation, what follows is an overview to start your conversation; or, consider passing on to family or friends who may need help. Additional resources are found at the end of this post).

An adult child’s visit home to see their aging parents often brings surprising revelations about mom and dad’s personal health and their ability to function on a day-to-day basis. In fact, during, and immediately following the holidays, older adult living communities and home care businesses experience a surge in phone inquiries and visits from adult children.

Visits to aging loved ones provide opportunities to observe physical and mental health which helps to determine if they are thriving or would benefit from assistance.

Angela Haas, BA, CSA, CDP, CDS, is an advocate for older adults.

What differences might visiting adult children see in their aging parents or other loved ones?

“Changes may be subtle or very obvious,” says Angela.

Adult children may observe changes in:

– weight

– eyes

– dressing habits

– personal hygiene

– clutter or disarray

– paying bills or opening mail

– appetite

– moods, such as sadness or indifference

– attention to a new or unusual friend

– interest in hobbies they’d enjoyed

– sleeping

– condition of their car.

Which changes should be most concerning? All of them.

“The aging adult could be suffering from depression. If they were usually happier and enjoyed going out and now they don’t, they could be depressed. That is dangerous if they are alone. If they are not alone, one has to make sure the person they are with or is taking care of them has their best interests at heart; if they live with a spouse, make sure the spouse is capable.”

What should visiting children keep in mind when talking with home town siblings? Angela says they need to remember they aren’t in town and don’t really know what the situation may be. This is the time for conversation.

“Keep an open mind. Listen to each other. Remember the focus should be on what is best for mom or dad.”

What should home town siblings keep in mind when hearing concerns of their visiting siblings? 

They also want the best for mom or dad. “They generally want to help as best they can, and may feel guilty about not being there although they may not want to admit it. Don’t be combative with your siblings, especially not in front of the aging adults.”

“If you cannot agree, it may be better to bring in a mediator, care manager, certified senior advisor or other professional.”

Keep in mind, also, that there are lots of in-home services that are available that could really help, whether for a short or extended period of time.

“Appointing a POA (power of attorney) is very important; make sure everyone has an advanced directive if there is medical decline or even if there are no issues. Also, make sure the aging adult has had a recent medical check up.”

How do aging parents or other loved ones feel about the questions or the wandering eyes of their visitors?

“Mom or dad will probably deny anything is wrong. They will also resist the offer of too much help all at once. Most of the time their reactions will be denial or cover up.”

“If there is dementia, they may not understand they are covering up or in denial. In fact, there is a medical condition for not understanding that they are not able to care for themselves because of their brain processing.”

Angela suggests not asking a lot of questions right away, and instead of pointing out what isn’t right, try to rephrase, such as “Mom, I noticed your pill bottles might need some updating. How about I get you a pill box to make it easier for you to reach and sort them?”

She also suggests that if there is a concern about driving, tread lightly right now. Taking away the keys is a huge deal.

Professionals such as Angela can be very helpful as you observe, sort out your thoughts, and consider what to do; you may also want to talk with friends or family members, a pastor, or someone else who knows the family and may be aware of the dynamics.

This can be, but doesn’t have to be, a sad or challenging time.

Remember, you are helping your aging loved one live as happy and healthy as possible!


(Please share your comments, experiences or resources below!)

Resources you will find helpful:

Angela Haas, BA, CSA, CDP, CDS, is a dementia care consultant who helps families, medical professionals and care companies work toward person centered care and engagement for people who live with dementia. Angela’s email address is: . (Thank you, Angela!) care  Home for the Holidays: Evaluating Your Parents’ Well-Being

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging,

(Thank you


Clark: Since this is Aunt Bethany’s 80th Christmas, I think she should lead us in the saying of Grace. 

Aunt Bethany: (turning to Lewis) What, dear?

Nora Griswold: Grace!

Uncle Lewis: They want you to say Grace.

(Bethany shakes her head in confusion)

Uncle Lewis: The BLESSING!

Aunt Bethany: (they all pose for prayer) I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Clark: Amen.






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