Aging Parents – What to Look For When You Visit

Four Things To Look For The Next Time You Visit Dad

by MARIA on SEPTEMBER 22, 2010


I’m often asked by adult daughters and sons to talk about the warning signs that should raise concern when they are visiting their parents.  It’s an important topic to be sure and through experience, I’ve arrived at some very specific advice. Here goes…

  The Warning Signs:   1) Weight loss of more than a few pounds.  Weight loss is specifically concerning because it can be a sign of malnutrition – a very serious and often under-diagnosed condition that means the body is not getting enough nutrients. Older adults can become malnourished for a variety of reasons, but the obvious one is that they are not eating enough food.  Some reasons for this include: poor mobility which can make it difficult to prepare food; lack of financial resources which can impact how much food can be bought and; certain medications which can suppress appetite. If you notice that your parent has lost weight, take note of what (s)he eats during your visit and trust your gut.  If you don’t think it’s enough, suggest an appointment with the doctor.  So long as there is no underlying medical condition for the weight loss, ask him/her to refer your parent to a nutritionist who can make suggestions on how to modify eating habits. 2) Few or no opportunities for social connection. Barbra Streisand said it best: we are “people who need people.” If your parents are Facebook or Twitter fanatics, please don’t count their “friends” or “followers” as proof that they are socially connected.  No offense, but I’m speaking here about meaningful social connections, the kind of relationships that deepen with time and become a source of tremendous support and affirmation.  These relationships are the ones that form over several years, among people who reside in the same community, for example. With age many relationships inevitably end, but rest assured that social connections are critical as we age.  And studies show that older adults who are socially connected are at a decreased risk of depression and dementia.  If your parent maintains few or no close relationships talk to him or her about this and strategize as best you can on how to bring more people into his/her life.  A good place to start is by scheduling regular visits and calls with extended family.   3) A depressed mood, most of the day, nearly every day. If you think that this describes your parent, it’s quite possible that he or she may be suffering from depression and an appointment with his/her primary care physician is in order. To be clear, depression is not feeling “blue”.  It is a significant change in your parent’s behavior and/or feelings and one that seems to carry over into most, if not all, parts of their lives.  Of course the kicker here is that depression can also negatively affect appetite and one’s interest in social activities, so getting to the root of the problem is essential. 4) Risk of falling. Far too many conversations about the risk of falling begin and end with the removal of throw rugs in an older adult’s home. This is important for sure, but it is possible to trip on much more than just throw rugs; it’s just as easy to trip over clutter or even a house cat.  Of course falls can also result from slipping on a wet surface (think bathroom) or down a flight of stairs that aren’t well lit. And let’s not leave out the slipping that can occur in one’s own shoes! If you don’t believe me ask my Great Aunt Ellen who is 95 and took a tumble after her stockinged feet slid inside her loosely-fastened sandles. If you’re concerned about your parent’s risk of falling there are two things you can do once you’ve removed the cluttered and enhanced the lighting.  First, you can ensure that he/she has a pair of rubber-soled shoes (I like sneakers) with good grip. Second, you can talk to your parent about having his/her eyes checked.  New glasses and/ or the removal of any cataracts can do wonders.