Ben’s family, as is the case with many, is scattered around the country and gets together only on holidays. These holiday occasions are the best time for him and others to observe an aging parent and access whether mental capacity has or is becoming diminished.

In a recent article an attorney noted that, if his client could hide his own Easter eggs, it was probably too late. He meant this witty quip as a stark reminder that, if diminishing capacity goes too long unobserved before proper planning has been done, that planning will not be possible.

Ben and those like him should be prepared to carefully observe whether either parent: (1) exhibits memory loss that is disrupting daily life; (2) has difficulty completing familiar tasks; (3) is challenged in planning or solving problems; (4) exhibits confusion with time or place; (5) has trouble understanding visual images or spacial relationships; (6) demonstrates problems with speaking or writing; (7) misplaces things or is unable to retrace steps; (8) exhibits poor judgment; (9) has withdrawn from work or social activities; or (10) exhibits significant changes in mood or personality. (See “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s” at

Holiday gatherings can also be a time for Ben and others to tactfully broach the probability of diminished capacity and the inevitability of death to ascertain whether proper planning is in place.  Children can gently remind parents that the following documents need to have been prepared, properly signed and witnessed: wills, powers of attorney, both financial and medical, and a medical directive indicating the treatment desired in the case of a terminal, incurable illness, a coma or vegetative state and similar conditions.  If these documents have been executed, the children should have copies or at least know where to locate them.

If these planning documents don’t exist, Ben and those in his similar situation, during the holiday visit, should encourage parents or other loved ones to have these documents prepared in the coming year.   

Ben and those similarly situated can increase their own peace of mind by accurately assessing their parents’ mental capability and making sure the essential documents are in place in case of mental incapacity or death.

         Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.