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Over the River and Through the Woods

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Ah, the holidays! The scent of pumpkin pie baking in the oven. The taste of Aunt Ellen’s gingerbread cookies. The laughter from the young cousins who haven’t seen each other since last year.

But if it has been awhile since the last time you visited Mom and Dad, the holidays could bring a rude awakening. Maybe Dad seems to be stumbling around more than usual (and it isn’t from drinking too much eggnog). Perhaps Mom keeps repeating herself. Is it your imagination or are piles of clutter are taking over their home – and is that a stack of unopened mail going back about two months?

When it’s time to go home for the holidays, it’s a good time to take off the sugar-frosted glasses and take a good look at what’s really going on with older relatives.

What shape is their house in? Does it seem to be more dusty and cluttered than usual? Are there some burned-out light bulbs that haven’t been replaced? Maybe there are a bunch of household or yard maintenance tasks that haven’t been done for a while. For example, maybe the yard is knee-deep in unraked leaves or that broken appliance still hasn’t been repaired since your last visit. Maybe there are extension cords running all over the place, creating a tripping or fire hazard.

Take a good look around the kitchen. Go ahead and snoop in the refrigerator. Is the fridge well stocked with fresh food, or is it nearly empty? Or is most of the food spoiled or outdated?

What about their medications? Are they organized into some kind of daily pill sorter? Do Mom and Dad even know what they’re taking, how much and when? When was the last time they saw a doctor?

Do Mom or Dad seem a bit confused or look disheveled? Can they keep up the conversation like they used to? Have they worn the same clothes for two or three days in a row?

Take a look at the car. Is Dad’s pride and joy now covered in dents and scrapes? Ask him to take you for a spin around the old neighborhood. Does he still have what it takes to operate a car safely?

Ask them what they’ve been doing for fun lately. Do they get out of the house and socialize on a regular basis? Or are they isolated either because of driving issues, mobility problems or because most of their peers are no longer around?

If some red flags are raised by any of your holiday observations, maybe it’s time to start a conversation with your parents about their needs and how you can help them to meet those needs. It could be as simple as arranging for someone to come in and clean the house or do yard work regularly. It could be making arrangements for transportation so that they can get out of the house and around town safely.

We all have those warm memories of being “home for the holidays” with family members we love. And we tend to think that nothing will change from one holiday to the next. But the reality often is much different. Give yourself the gift of peace of mind this holiday season by starting the conversation.

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Susan Rupe is assistant editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Connect with Susan →

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