According to a Web site geared toward caring for elderly parents, many people are surprised to go home and find their parents health is declining.
It's a delicate situation - you don't want to barge in with a clipboard and a checklist. But if you casually look for certain things - it might help you stay on top of the situation. And if you mentally brace yourself - you're already ahead of the game. Because this is something that could catch you off guard - and upset your holiday.
"It is a shock," said Carla Matlin, Palo Alto.
Carla Matlin remembers how she felt when she went home to visit her mom one year and realized - her mom was getting frail.
"She's got more gray hair, she walks a little more stooped, just a little more difficulty getting around - forgetting things a bit more, so yes it is shocking," said Matlin.
The CEO of the Web site www.caring.com says you could be next to receive that shock - especially if you visit your parents once a year.
"Many people are going to be traveling and have unpleasant surprises when they go home for the holidays. We're trying to help people figure them out in advance and make them not so hard and give them some tools and tricks to get through it," said Andy Cohen, CEO, Caring.com.
His team noticed traffic on the website increased last year during the holidays - with people frantically asking questions - saying they didn't know what to do.
"You may feel like your alone, but you are in good company and we can help you," said Cohen.
So this year they're trying to take the shock out of the trip. They've compiled a list of things for you to check while you're home.
"Look in the fridge and make sure the foods all fresh in there, you can check the code dates on the milk, on the yogurts - and this will give you a really good sense of is mom and dad on top of it," said Cohen.
Take a peek at the mail and make sure all letters are getting opened and bills are getting paid. Also - ask your parent to take you for a drive.
"If you find old stuff in the fridge, if their mail is not opened, if they're having trouble driving - it's really time to sit down and have a hard conversation with them about how they're doing and how they might need more help than they think," said Cohen.
Of course - that conversation might not go so well. Carla remembers her mom getting a bit argumentative when she realized her independence might be threatened.
"I do think the hardest thing is recognizing you are doing the best thing for your mom," said Matlin.
Caring.com has advice on what to say to your parent and what services are out there to help them. Andy Cohen came up with the idea for the Web site when his own mother got sick and he couldn't find the help online he needed. He hopes he can help you find the positive in the situation.
"This care giving part of the life stage can be a wonderful time for you to get closer to your parents and to your siblings. And I know it did for me the last months of my mom's life," said Cohen.
While you're home -- work on establishing contacts. You want the neighbors and other people who see your parents to have your phone number so they can let you know if something doesn't look right during the next year.