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Nov 22, 2022

For adult children who do not live close to their aging parents, the holidays can be a good time to visit to make sure things are good as they seem. In addition to staying connected throughout the year by phone or Zoom calls, a personal visit may give you more information that things are ok – or  confirm any suspicions you may have had that there is truly a problem.

Many of these suspicions may be around whether or not your parent – or parents – are becoming more forgetful or if they are becoming more frail and unable to keep up with everything independently. 

Some parents will ask for help if they recognize they are starting to struggle, but many aging parents will not want anyone to know because it means a potential threat to their independence and/or autonomy. The holidays create a time to get together, and it’s an excellent opportunity for adult children to check in and see how their aging parents are really doing.

In this episode of This Is Getting Old: Moving Towards An Age-Friendly World, I’ll share with you four things to look for during your holiday visits this year that may be warning signs that you need to dig deeper to find out what’s going on. 

I will list them in order of least invasive to most invasive…and keep in mind that you do want to respect the dignity, privacy, and autonomy of your loved one – and these need to be investigated from a place of concern – not to undermine your parents. It’s a thin line, so listen to your intuition if you suspect a problem and engage your loved one in the process as much as possible. 

Open communication is always the best approach, and you are looking for differences from the last time you saw them.

Key points covered in this episode:

✔️ Tip #1: Give Them a Hug

Clues that things are changing aren’t always visible from a distance, so a hug may tell you more without setting off any alarms that you’re concerned about.

✔️ Tip #2: What’s the Kitchen Look Like? 

My Mom has always told me that the kitchen is the heart of the home. Think about what the kitchen has always looked like and compare any differences you see. 

✔️ Tip #3: Ask About Their Social Life

If your parent - or - parents were always socially active – has that changed? And if it has, ask them why? 

✔️ Tip #4: Look For Any Visible Mail

The mail may offer clues about how your parents are managing their bills or if they are being/ have been scammed. 

✔️ How To Catch More Flies With Honey?

These four tips are a starting point for a conversation about how things are going at home – how they are really going. 

Create a safe space to discuss what’s concerning you and listen to the answers. One other thing my Mom taught me is that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar…so be kind, observant and listen.

Also talk to other people close to them – friends, neighbors or other families who visit regularly. These signs could indicate a bigger problem, but get others involved to learn more about anything that concerns you before making an assumption that there is a memory or thinking problem.
✔️ Additional Resources

You can check out some of these related episodes:

How To Talk To Someone You Think May Have A Memory Problem:

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease:

How Alzheimer’s is Diagnosed?:

If you have questions, comments, or need help, please feel free to drop a one-minute audio or video clip and email it to me at, and I will get back to you by recording an answer to your question. 

About Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FGSA, FAAN:

I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing ('96) and Master of Science in Nursing ('00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I genuinely enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home, and office visits), then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer. I obtained my PhD in Nursing and a post-master's Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing ('11). I then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 which led to me joining the George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing faculty in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor. I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health, and Humanities. Please find out more about her work at