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Recognizing the Health Warning Signs: A Guide for Adult Children Visiting Senior Parents Over the Holidays

The holiday season is a time for joy, togetherness, and fun family traditions. For many adult children, holiday gatherings offer and opportunity to visit their senior parents after months of separation. While the focus is often on festivities and catching up, it's crucial to be vigilant about your aging parents' well-being. If you’re wondering how to deal with aging parents’ health down the road, the good news is that you can take small steps, beginning with assessing how they’re doing.


Here are some signs — both obvious and discreet — that should raise flags and prompt you to take action in caring for your parents.

Physical Health

As you greet your parent with hugs and spend quality time with them up close over the winter holidays, look out for the following in their physical condition:


  • A decline in personal hygiene. A noticeable decline in personal hygiene could be a sign of physical or cognitive issues. If your parent appears unkempt or has a strong odor, it may indicate difficulty in performing daily tasks.
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries. Bruises or injuries could signify falls or mobility issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of four older adults falls each year, making it a leading cause of injuries.
  • Unhealthy weight loss. Sudden or significant weight loss could be a sign of various health issues, including depression or malnutrition. It could also indicate difficulty in grocery shopping or preparing meals.

Psychological and Cognitive Health

In talking with your parent, pay attention to their demeanor, expressions, and conversation patterns. Look out for these cognitive and mental health warning signs:


  • Forgetfulness. While occasional forgetfulness is common, frequent memory lapses could be early signs of dementia or Alzheimer's. Look out for misplaced items, forgotten appointments, or repeated questions.
  • Mood swings. Extreme mood swings or changes in personality could be indicative of mental health challenges. For example, depression is common among seniors, especially those who have recently lost a partner, family members, or friend.

Home Environment

You — likely better than anyone else in the world — are an expert on what’s normal and what’s not in the way your parent keeps their home. Keep a discreet eye out for these factors, especially if they’re out of character:


  • Unkempt landscaping, rooms, and other spaces. A cluttered or dirty home could indicate your parent is struggling with upkeep, which could be due to physical limitations or cognitive decline. Worse, excessive messes could become trip hazards and pose other health and safety risks.
  • Expired food or half-finished tasks. Check the fridge for expired food and the house for signs of multiple unfinished projects or tasks. These could be signs of forgetfulness, lethargy, or lack of interest in daily activities.
  • Neglected pets. If your loved one has one or more pets, look for signs that they’re not being properly cared for. These might include indications like significant weight gain or loss, foul breath, dull or dirty fur (or scales, feathers, etc.), lethargy, evidence that waste isn’t being cleaned up often enough, or a general lack of vitality. Your investigation and intervention will help both your parent and their pet.

Social Indicators

It’s also important to pay attention to how your parent is functioning in relation to friends, acquaintances, other family members, calendar events, and activities. Try to get a sense of whether they may be experiencing either of the following:


  • Isolation. If your parent is avoiding social interactions or has lost interest in activities they once enjoyed, it could be a sign of social isolation or depression.
  • Missed appointments or events. Frequent absence from scheduled appointments or family events could indicate memory issues or difficulty with driving or other forms of transportation.

Financial Wellbeing

In addition to other aspects of your parent’s health, try to get at least a general sense of whether they are doing okay financially. Look out for signs of:


  • Unusual spending. Out-of-character spending habits could indicate that your parent has fallen victim to a financial scam of some kind, possibly in connection with declining cognitive health.
  • Unpaid bills. If you start seeing stacks of mail containing unpaid bills lying about, it could be a sign of memory or financial problems. Left unchecked, these will eventually lead to far more serious financial consequences for your parent.

When to Take Action

If you notice any of these warning signs, it's essential to address them promptly. Open a line of communication with your parent to discuss your concerns. Consider involving healthcare professionals for assessments and recommendations. Depending on the situation, you may also want to explore options like home care services, assisted living, or financial planning. Being proactive can make all the difference in ensuring your loved one’s safety and quality of life — and in giving you more reasons to celebrate at your next holiday gathering.

Enjoy the Holidays More With Chapel Pointe

Chapel Pointe is a nonprofit, faith-based continuing care retirement community committed to serving and enhancing the quality of life of people aged 62+ in Central Pennsylvania. This includes helping families to determine what type of home, services, and care best meets the needs of their loved ones.


Chapel Pointe residents enjoy holidays in many ways: with activities geared to their interests, at open houses and parties with friends, with guests around a feast prepared by our chefs, and on the road with family in other states.


Since the beginning, our team's mission has been to ensure that every resident is treated with love and the utmost respect. Experiencing our core values — trust, integrity, faith, service, and innovation — lived out every day at Chapel Pointe reassures seniors (and their families!) that they are making the right decision by welcoming us into their lives. Contact us to start a conversation about what it looks like to join the Chapel Pointe family.

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