Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays
The holidays are here and families are coming together, often for the first time in many months.
Such events this time of year are usually marked by food, fun and celebration. But they can also provide an opportunity to have some tough conversations while far-flung family members are all gathered in one place. The holidays can be a time when loved ones both notice changes in their aging parents and are in a position to discuss them together as a family. While likely not ideal, now might be the best time to take a quiet moment and consider discussing caregiving plans for your aging parents.
Are you dreading having to address the questioning, and perhaps telling, look you got from your sister when your mother forgot to turn on the oven? Or the talk about what to do after your father fell as he rocked himself out of his chair? How about that abridged, side conversation you’ll have with your brother about the changes he sees in your mother’s ability to function?
One or more of these scenarios are being played out all over the country as adult children return to the cities of their childhood to celebrate the holidays with their parents and their friends. The members of the baby boom generation are now on the precipice of their own retirement. Yet, thanks to healthier lifestyles and medical advances, they are witnessing their parents’ increased longevity and a variety of related physical, cognitive and emotional changes exacerbated by aging.
Many are struggling with the best way to approach difficult conversations related to their parents’ aging, especially this time of year. These conversations often include decisions about financial, legal, medical and housing issues, to name a few. Some common questions that may need to be addressed are:
- Do your parents see what you see?
- How involved should you be in their care?
- What are your parents’ ideas about receiving assistance at home?
- How do you get your siblings on the same page?
How your family answers these questions can provide the basis for a plan. However, they first have to be asked. Unfortunately, many adult children just aren’t equipped to know if, how or when to step in and ask such questions, even as the age-related issues facing their parents become more evident. Knowing how to identify certain red flags, during the extra time you spend around family for the holidays or otherwise, will help make their need for your attention more obvious.
Here are some things to look out for:
- Safety — Fires, falls, and getting lost while driving all indicate that their ability to function is changing.
- Physical status — Falls, weight changes and loss of energy might mean that a medical assessment is needed. One should never assume a change like this has no available treatment.
- Mood — Depression, anxiety or frequent distress might indicate depression or other mental health, metabolic or medication problems. Loneliness or cumulative grief when peers and family have died may be a factor. A medical evaluation or counseling (which is covered by Medicare) might be advisable and may reverse some or all of these mood disturbances.
- Memory and judgment — Forgetting names or losing keys is not necessarily indicative of dementia. But not knowing what the keys are for is extreme and your parent should be evaluated. Sometimes confusion can be a result of depression, or other reversible conditions, so never assume Alzheimer’s disease without checking it out with the doctor.
Everyone experiences an older family member’s aging differently, and it is important to have a plan that takes into account your parent’s wants and needs, your siblings’ abilities and resources and the professionals who can best guide the family to solid and proactive planning.
The holidays are a time of year when we gather from places both near and far to celebrate the importance of family and tradition. And that may just make this the best time to begin a family discussion with your siblings about meeting the identified care needs of your parents.
Sylvia Nissenboim, LCSW, is a licensed counselor and certified coach with more than 30 years of experience helping families care for aging parents.
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