Oh Deer! Holidays & Your Elders


If you live far away from aging parents and stay connected primarily by phone, your holiday visit may bring unwelcome surprises. Seniors are very good at sounding chipper during a call while masking serious problems they’re facing living alone.

Here’s what Leigh, who lives in a Chicago suburb, discovered during her family’s recent Thanksgiving visit with her 85 year-old father who resides in North Carolina.

“We were shocked when we arrived there,” Leigh said. “He’s not taking care of himself much less his home. It’s obviously too much work for him now. We also saw how compromised his memory is — can’t remember anything recent. The worst part — he’s drinking too much alcohol. Then he forgets to take his meds, or takes alcohol with his sleeping pills! So now he’s sleeping a lot and falling. We were looking forward to a relaxing visit with him, and instead, we found a disaster — where do we begin?”

Unfortunately, these situations do not go away by themselves and are usually a sign something serious is underway. It is far better to address them directly with your loved one as soon as you witness them instead of waiting for a medical emergency to strike.


-Ignores personal hygiene in bathing, dressing, and grooming
-Home or apartment is dirty, cluttered & disorganized
-Not taking medications as directed and forgetting refills
-Confusion, forgetfulness, and/or personality changes
-Inability to handle mail and pay bills

Shortly after arriving at her dad’s house, Leigh privately conferred with her husband, Glenn, to confirm the changes they saw and to hatch a game plan. Then together they sat down with her father and discussed his day-to-day life and the challenges he was obviously facing. Initially resistant to what he termed their interference, they nonetheless put together a plan to be launched immediately.

Next, Leigh contacted her father’s neighbors for assistance to check in on him for a few months, until Leigh and Glenn could move him to the Chicago area. In the meantime, Leigh would travel down to North Carolina for regular visits and to continue preparing the house for sale.

During their Thanksgiving visit, they started thoroughly cleaning his home, addressing outdoor maintenance problems, and downsizing his belongings. They identified items he would like to take with him to Illinois and looked for a real estate professional.

Leigh’s long-term plan is two-fold. They plan to move him into their Chicago home by Spring. Until then, they will add an in-law apartment to their lower level for him. From there, they will eventually look for appropriate and affordable senior housing.

“It’s one step at a time for us now,” Leigh said. “I need to have him living under my roof so I can monitor how he’s really doing once he eats regular meals and takes his medication properly. After that, we’ll have a better idea of his daily functioning and how much independence he can safely handle.” ###