Using the Holidays to Check on Loved Ones

Dr. Macie Smith shares best practices on how to maximize your holiday visits and checking on older loved ones through assessments.

The holiday season is upon us, and if you’re like me, I’m sure you’re looking forward to in-person celebrations and gatherings.
While relaxing and enjoying your loved ones should be your number one priority during your time away, you should also keep in mind that this is the best time to check in on older family members while you’re all together.

Like I mentioned at this time last year, your loved ones most likely won’t want your focus to be on them during the festivities. This is why you’ll need to look out for cues and red flags during casual conversation.

In particular, you’ll want to pay attention to these specific areas:

1. Their Level of Accessibility

Are Mom or Dad suddenly hesitant or even outright avoidant to your visits? Are they guarded when you ask what’s going on in their life? Is it a hassle to get them on the phone?

If any of these are suddenly the case – especially if they never displayed these tendencies before – then Mom or Dad might be trying to hide their decline. Not only might they feel like it’d be a burden to you, but they might also be scared or embarrassed.

Continue to insist that you’re okay with coming to see or speak with them and provide them comfort.

2. Their Engagement:

Are Mom and Dad spending time with friends? Do their neighbors have a grasp on what’s going on in their lives? Are they giving up on hobbies they used to love?

A lack of social engagement is a direct cause of depression in older adults. Encourage them to participate in social groups and stay in touch with friends. Neighbors can provide a great glimpse into what’s going on in Mom and Dad’s lives without you directly needing to ask them.

When speaking with neighbors, avoid divulging personal information about Mom and Dad, but ask if they’re getting out of the house, if they’re spending time outside, or what other habits your neighbors might have noticed.

Be sure to also provide the neighbors with your contact information so they can reach you directly if any concerns come up.

3. The State of Their Home:

If you’re going to visit Mom and Dad, pay specific attention to how well-kept the house is. Is the house a mess? Is trash piling up? Is there expired food in the pantry?

Small things like these can be indicators that Mom and Dad are struggling to keep up with day-to-day tasks. If the house is a mess, don’t shame them or bring negative attention to it.

Instead, offer to help clean up and reduce fall risks, or even offer to put them in touch with a cleaning service that can routinely come over. Also, be sure to display important contact information in an easily visible part of the house.

Leave your number, the neighbors’ number, and the numbers of nearby hospitals somewhere they won’t be lost, such as the fridge.

4. Their Mobility and Dexterity:

Are Mom and Dad struggling to get around or complete everyday tasks? Can they get in and out of the bathroom to bathe? Can they cook for themselves? Can they get their laundry done?

Keep an eye on small red flags that might indicate Mom or Dad is losing some mobility or dexterity. If they’re losing weight or looking disheveled, they might be struggling with one of these areas.

If they’ve got bruising or are avoiding certain parts of the house, they may be struggling to move around safely. They might not admit it outright, but monitoring their ability to complete activities of daily living is one of the simplest, but most important things for you to look out for this holiday season.

5. Their Memory:

Mobility and dexterity can help you notice a loved one’s physical decline, but memory is the key to assessing cognitive decline. The easiest way to gauge a loved one’s memory is to ask about current events and see how well they’re able to articulate about them.

You can ask about news, sports, weather, or anything that would’ve gotten their interest in the past. If they give short, non-descript answers, they may be trying to hide the fact that they’re experiencing memory loss. You can also ask about things that have recently happened in their lives to see if they’re able to string together recent sequences of events.

Some other tips for memory-gauging conversation include:

Using Open-Ended Questions: Avoid yes or no questions and give Mom or Dad the ability to articulate.
Ask the Same Questions: If you see Mom or Dad multiple days in a row, follow up with the same question you asked the day before. If their answers are changing, this could be a red flag.
Don’t Use Prodding Language: Don’t start a question with “Don’t you remember…”, this will make dialogue feel more like an interrogation than a conversation.

What’s Next?

If you do notice a string of concerning habits, it’s best to be safe and act now than to wait it out and potentially allow your loved one’s condition to worsen. Ask other people in your loved one’s life what they’ve been noticing recently, and if you come to a consensus, it’s time to get help.

Reach out to your loved one’s primary care physician and make an appointment. There’s no shame in needing some extra help –more and more people are doing everything they can to be healthy and age in place. If your loved one needs full-time support for a chronic condition or just needs a companion to spend some time with, in-home care providers like SYNERGY HomeCare can develop the personalized care plan that is right for them.

Dr. Macie P. Smith is a licensed gerontology social worker who is focused on helping families support their aging loved ones through long-term care. Specifically, Dr. Smith educates caregivers on how to care for seniors with dementia. She is an advocate for specialized care and assists others in finding a way to provide a better quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Smith has dedicated over 22 years of her life working in gerontology and assisting families in finding personalized solutions for dementia care. For more articles by Dr. Macie Smith, go to


For more information on caring for a loved one with dementia, download SYNERGY HomeCare’s free Memory Care Guide.

SYNERGY HomeCare offers no obligation home assessments. Find a location near you or Contact us to talk to a Memory Care specialist.

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