Have You Noticed Changes in Your Aging Parents Or Older Relatives During the Holidays?

Holiday gatherings and events often bring to mind memories of holidays past. 

I remember one from several years ago when a colleague told me of a Thanksgiving visit with her parents. 

She hadn’t seen them since the beginning of that year, and when she stepped inside the family homestead of 40 years, she knew something had changed. 

A slight musty smell had replaced the comforting scent of “clean” she’d always loved about her parents’ home.

Her father, who’d once stood tall, now hunched over a bit. And as my colleague followed him into the house, she noticed him setting his hand on top of chairs to balance himself as he moved through the living room. 

He leaned on the door jamb as he walked into the kitchen, where dirty dishes had piled up on one side of the sink. Her mother steadied herself using the kitchen table, needing two attempts to get up from the chair. 

The light conversation that followed proved her parents’ minds were, fortunately, completely intact. 

But the inevitable shift of later life had occurred – and she was faced with the task of deciding how to address it. 

As it did for my colleague who shared this story, holiday visits with your own aging parents and other relatives can bring some unavoidable truths to light. 

What to watch for when you visit your aging parents for the holidays

The holidays are a time to reconnect with your family. 

They’re also an opportunity to take notice of any changes in your aging relatives or their household environment. 

Though I know it can be unsettling to see changes in your parent’s behavior or health, being aware of signs that tell you they need help allows you to take a more proactive approach to providing that help.

The following highlights some areas for you to take note of.

Household Environment

When you first arrive, take a look around the house. Rather than diving right into help the way you might feel compelled to, take a moment to really take in the surroundings.

If the house has been tidy in the past, you’re looking for signs of whether it’s too much to handle now:

  • Beds unmade 
  • Garbage not taken out
  • Unusual amounts of clutter
  • General disarray and states of disrepair
  • Dirty dishes piled up (or nowhere near the kitchen)

You certainly don’t have to be the household cleaning police, but if things are markedly untidy or unaddressed, it could indicate your aging loved ones have problems with managing simple day-to-day chores and upkeep.


Try to notice how your parents move around as you spend time with them.

  • Do they take considerably longer to move from one place to another? 
  • Is it difficult for them to get up from chairs and sofas they used to stand up from with ease?
  • Are they using the tops of chairs and other furniture to steady themselves where they didn’t before? 

These could all be signs of diminished mobility.

Pay attention to see if there are consistent problems with their physical movement or balance. 

Difficulty Seeing or Hearing

Ask yourself how your aging relatives interact with the sights and sounds around them.

  • Are they squinting at a recipe despite wearing their reading glasses?
  • Do they have the radio or TV turned up to an unusually high volume?
  • Are they frequently asking you to repeat yourself?

Difficulty Remembering and Comprehending

If your aging parent repeatedly forgets something significant spoken earlier that day or seems to be unable to follow conversations, it could be a sign that their memory or understanding is becoming an issue.

Take extra time to speak slowly and clearly, and notice whether they often can’t comprehend what you’re saying. 

Be proactive and provide the help your aging parents need

If any of these behaviors only happen once or twice with your aging parents during your holiday visit, there’s probably nothing to be concerned about.

We can all forget things, need to steady ourselves, and put off doing the dishes on occasion – myself included!

But if one or more of these behaviors persists, there are a few things you can do to support those you care about.

1. Take care to approach your concern gently and without judgment. 

If your loved one feels they’ve become an annoyance or a hassle, it will only be more difficult to get them help. 

Our current older generation survived the Depression, World War II and their aftermaths. They were raised not to be a burden in any way, and they may feel they are a burden if they’re approached indelicately.

If they think they are, that can make things very difficult and even sorrowful.

2. Help make doctors’ appointments and keep track of their dates and times.

Finding a professional to assess your aging parent’s needs can be a great place to start. 

Help them keep track of when their appointments are and with whom, and offer to go with them for added support when and if you can.

3. Make sure their estate plan is up to date.

Beyond their will, find out if they have an estate plan, including a healthcare directive, when it was last updated, and where to find these documents when they’re needed. 

This is also a great time to check on your own estate plan (which can help take some of the awkwardness out of this vital end-of-life conversation).

Addressing your concerns with your aging parents

Broaching these concerns can feel difficult – but be brave. 

Better to address what you’ve observed than get that awful call that your parent has fallen and broken their hip. 

And it isn’t as counterintuitive as you might think to bring up these topics with your aging parents during the holidays. 

Wait for a quiet and peaceful time, when you’re both feeling relaxed and grateful for the time together, to broach this conversation.

You might begin by emphasizing how much you enjoy being with them. 

Talk about what it means to have the holiday together and share some memories of past holidays you’ve enjoyed as a family. 

Ask them about their favorite memories and listen intently. Nod and smile as they speak and when the time is right, let them know you want to keep sharing these holiday traditions with them, making memories for many years to come. 

Then ease into the conversation about your concerns and observations.

Approaching them from a place of love and concern makes it easier on everyone. 

For example, rather than saying, “Dad, you’re losing your balance and need to see a doctor,” perhaps try, “Dad, I noticed you seem to be leaning on the furniture when you walk. What’s up with that?” 

Again, listen thoughtfully. Gently continue to ask questions so you can work toward solutions together. 

Otherwise, you may find yourself being reminded that you’re the child and they’re the parent. (How many times did I hear that from my own dad? Save yourself – please do as I say, and not as I did.)

Enjoy the holidays with your aging parents and older relatives

Navigating later life with our aging relatives can feel complicated at times. 

But by staying vigilant and taking action, you show how deeply you care and allow everyone to enjoy the time you have together. 

Watch for changes in your aging loved ones’:

  • Household environment
  • Movement
  • Vision and Hearing
  • Memory and Comprehension

If you notice significant changes, gently offer support with an approach that’s judgment-free – and, above all, comes from love. 

Visit our professional glossary for resources to get your aging relatives the help they need. 

Later Life Living
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About: Marty Stevens-Heebner

An award-winning entrepreneur, designer and author, Clear Home Solutions’ CEO Marty Stevens-Heebner and her staff of experts work with older adults and their families when their treasures, paperwork and “stuff” get in the way of moving their lives forward. Clear Home Solutions is where compassion meets know-how, thanks to her hard-working staff of experts. They tackle moves, downsizing and organizing, as well as professional home inventories, managing all the logistics and stress so their clients don’t have to.

Marty was inspired to launch Clear Home Solutions 8 years ago after her experiences with her 90-year-old father and her 88-year-old aunt with dementia. She’s the President-Elect of the National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers (NASMM), and Clear Home Solutions was the first nationally accredited company in her industry in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

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