When you are visiting your parents for holidays, the event can be a great time of welcome and reunion.  And, in the midst of the excitement, food, and fellowship, there might be important opportunities to see how well your parents are doing.  And, it could make all the difference in their lives.

We all believe we will live forever, and we wish it even more so for our parents.  When our parents age, we may find it hard to recognize, or we might make excuses for them.  “Stress of the holidays” is not a good enough reason for some behaviors. Forgetting names of loved ones or wandering away during the meal might be extreme examples, but there are subtle ones too.  For example, retelling the same stories over and over, or not being able to follow the well-worn recipe of the family dish might be signs of aging.

You can probe, gently, to see how they are doing, and you can observe their surroundings.  Do you see mail stacking up?  Or, unpaid bills?  Or, twenty un-heard voicemail messages? Is there no milk in the fridge but a dozen pounds of butter in the freezer?  Do you see things out of place, such as odd objects in the closet?  Are some of yesterday’s pills left in the pill box. or did you find some on the floor?

Neighbors and friends might also be helpful to determine if mom or dad is leaving the house, or getting to favorite places, such as church.  When mom says she still gets to church every week, but the ladies at church all say “Elsie!  It’s been ages! How are you?” you might have a clue as to how she is really doing.

There are many resources available to you on the Internet and from trusted professionals.  A good conversation about future plans might include discussions about end-of-life issues.  To complement those discussions, we offer the Five Wishes health care document as part of our service to you and your family. You can find information here at their website or here on our blog.

Observe and think about what you are seeing.  Talk to your other family members if you are concerned.  Now might be the time to begin the hard conversations about what is next, and about life decisions.  It really is never too early, but it can be too late.