Holiday Conversations: Top 5 Early Warning Signs that this is the year for the talk.
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
Now that the Holiday season is in full swing, I suggest you prepare yourself with more than a shopping list. Most of us will visit one or more family members who we may not have seen since this time last year. With that in mind, I would recommend that you increase your situational awareness. Huh? Of What?
When the time comes to visit your parents or grandparents, you need to prepare yourself with another list. That list is one that includes items to look out for that will inform you about their overall wellbeing. While it is common for many to put on their "Sunday best" when the family is coming, there are still behaviors that will tell you their story.
The first item that you may encounter is your parent or grandparents' automobile in the driveway. Is it a new car since last you visited or is it showing signs of wear. Regardless of age, does it have a little paint, particularly around the corners, that came from another vehicle? Why is this important? A conversation about there car could provide tips into an elder's failing hand-eye coordination. One thing that no one wants to be responsible for is injuring someone else, especially if the situation was completely avoidable. This subject can be tricky as so many of us view our automobiles as being equivalent to an arm, or more appropriately a leg, as part of who we are and how we get around. That level of dependence should be part of the conversation about if it is time for them to down-size their living situation.
A second item for the list should be the overall condition of the exterior of an elder's home. If your parent or grandparent is living alone due to death, divorce, or other situation, this will likely follow gender roles. Historically, inside the home was a woman's domain, and the exterior was that of the man of the house. While we continue to pursue equality, the entrenchment of some roles is nearly genetic. Within the Baby Boomers and their Silent Generation parents, you will likely see those gender roles remain steadfast. The reason I bring this up is that it might suggest that it is time for a down-sizing for your elder. It may not be an easy task to separate a parent or grandparent from their home, given the potential history, but it could be in everyone's best interest. If they are in a single-family dwelling, the maintenance required by a single person could be cost-prohibitive in both time and money.
The third item for your list would be to look for tips regarding fine motor skills. If your family member is prone to give money, rather than goods, to loved ones for Christmas. They can dodge tipping you off if they happen to give cash, but if they do write checks, this is an opportunity. If they do offer up cash instead of a check, you need to find another way. One method would be to suggest taking them to the store when the need arises. Ask them to make a list of what they need and offer to get it for them or perhaps go with them. There are many signs of failing motor skills that you can see if you look. One is how smooth their letters are, and another is how long it takes them to write. You could kill two birds with one stone using this method. You can assess both their handwriting and driving abilities if you use this approach.
The fourth item for your list would be the appearance of a lot of new things around their home. This one is far more likely to show itself if your elder is living alone. It could be a sign that they are under-socialized and are using retail therapy to compensate. A secondary symptom that could show itself regarding items is the appearance of multiple items, that could indicate failing memory. In more extreme cases, it might start to resemble hoarding. We are not talking about buying bulk items to "save" money; we are talking about many of the same items, so many in fact that they are not likely to consume them within the next six months. This behavior should warrant a gentle inquiry to find out why they have purchased so many of a particular good. If this is happening, it likely means that they could end up as a target for all manner of scams targeting elders. If you do face resistance in getting an elder to reconsider the best option for their living situation, you should at least suggest adding a second authorized user to their most commonly used accounts. I will have another post soon detailing why refusing help from loved ones can be quite costly.
The fifth behavior to look for is clothing. What to look for with this one could vary greatly depending upon gender and your loved one's style. Regardless of their style, you may well pick up on some patterns during your visit, particularly if it is more than a day. The types of changes that you should notice include the overall condition of their clothes, how well their clothes fit, and if their style choices appear to be changing. When it comes to the condition of their clothes, you should look for signs of stains and excessive wear. How well kept they are may tip you off as to how well they are taking care of themselves, or perhaps that they are having financial difficulties. As far as how their clothes fit, you would likely notice that their clothes seem to be a little baggier than you are accustomed to seeing. The fit of their clothing may suggest that they are losing weight or perhaps opting for more comfortable lounge ware. The fit leads to the final tip on the style front. You are most likely to see a deviation toward comfort, meaning more stretch in their clothing choices. As far as style versus comfort, the one that wins may tell you more than you want to know. If their clothes are older and are looking roomier, then you may have a self-care issue that could be related to an underlying health condition or poor eating habits. If, however, their clothes are new a looking a little baggy, they could be opting for comfort, but don't ignore the fact that they could still be trying to hide an underlying health condition. My latest trip down that road included just that. My last surviving grandparent was doing both at the same time, losing weight and obscuring a mass on their chest.
If you need more tips on how to care for your aging loved ones, try Death and Taxes: Fallout from the Baby Boom. It provides you a chronological guide from spotting when an intervention needs to happen through handling a loved one's affairs after death.
Please let me know if this post gave you something to consider in the comments below. Good or bad let me know what you think, this is about starting a dialogue. If this post made you think about your own relationships or those of someone you know like and share it with them. If you are interested in other topics check out some of my previous posts and subscribe to get email notifications of new posts.