This time of year, those of us in professional eldercare remind families about things to watch for when they make holiday visits. It is not uncommon for us to receive calls after families visit and spot concerns. Things may have changed significantly since the last visit.
While we think it is a valuable time to observe such changes, we’re going to go against the conventional advice and say it may not be the best time for “the talk”. Because you may have limited time together, it is common for families to broach the subject of needing help during holiday visits. Where possible we recommend steering away from that on special holiday visits. Instead, here’s what we think is the ideal approach (not always possible, but ideal if you can make it work):
- Use visits to observe how your aging parent is doing. You may want to ride along in the car if he/she still drives, observe cooking or nutritional signs (such as noting what’s in the pantry, fridge and freezer) and see how well the house is being kept (compared to usual). Does your parent appear to be bathing/keeping up hygiene? Are there any unexplained injuries? You may want to print out a copy of Aging Wisely’s “Eldercare Warning Signs” to reference.
- Document your observations. This will help you keep track of what has changed, and be useful as you need to talk to relatives and others about the facts of what you have seen.
- If there is some spare time in the schedule, plan some appointments/visits. If you know neighbors or friends, it can be great to touch base with them–remind them you are supportive and offer your contact information. Talk to your parent about whether there are any necessary appointments they might like to have you along for while you are visiting–such as doctor’s appointments, a visit to their attorney or financial advisor to do a review, or general tasks you can help with while there. The more familiar you can become with local contacts, the better prepared you will be to step in and the more likely you’ll be “in the loop”.
- Enjoy the holidays together and cherish the family memories. It is a nice time to look through pictures, ask your loved one to show you how to make a favorite family recipe and reminisce. These times are particularly precious as our loved ones get older, and visits tend to revolve more and more around tasks, medical appointments and crises.
- Take some time while in town to get some advice and gather some resources. You can find most information online nowadays, but you can also pick up the local yellow pages while you are in town, seek referrals and advice from locals and get some information on services for future needs. Consider setting aside a couple hours for a care consultation with one of our Aging Wisely geriatric care managers (or schedule it for later if your time visiting is limited, since it can be done via phone).
- Plan a time separate from the holiday visit for the talk. We know…this may not be possible if you come in to town and see urgent problems or are limited in the time off or finances to visit more than once. But, when possible, plan out this “talk time” carefully and try to save holiday time for family time.
When it comes to “the talk”, we have some input and resources that we hope will also be helpful:
- First, we recommend not thinking of this as “THE talk” but an ongoing conversation. It is a process to discuss what might be some significant changes, and losses, for your aging loved one. If you can begin approaching issues from an early stage, the process will go much more smoothly and your loved one can have more input. Even if a crisis has occurred, you can prioritize issues to address the most pressing concerns.
- Your loved one’s personality and your relationship will have a major effect on this process. That is something that won’t change (or at least not overnight). You may have to change the nature of the conversation, who’s involved and even how the whole issue of eldercare is approached if your loved one simply refuses to deal with safety issues or there are long-standing disagreements. The conversation may also change if a loved one has dementia, as memory issues and thinking patterns may affect the process.
- Have solutions to suggest, but also choices. Do your homework (see above) and get some resources lined up (for example, there are some startling statistics about the levels of depression and isolation in seniors who give up driving and are not given alternatives). Be open to alternative suggestions, though, and not stuck on your solution as the right one. You may think you have the perfect answer lined up, and your loved one or even other family members may hate the idea.
- Think about the approach: when might be the best time for these discussions, who should be involved, how can you be positive and give your aging parent an active role/minimize threatened feelings. If you have time to think about this, the conversation can go much more smoothly. There are some great reading materials (see below) from communications and psychology experts, which can even give you sample approaches and phrases.
- Know where to go for immediate help. Doing that homework helps–if a crisis comes up, you will have some “go to” resources. We get those calls all the time at EasyLiving, and we’re happy to help no matter when the crisis occurs. It is comforting to know you have someone to call on, especially if you are a long-distance caregiver.
Need immediate help? Or, just doing your homework about services, resources options? Want to talk to a knowledgeable senior care consultant to be better prepared or get tips on having these conversations? Call us any time at 727-447-5845 or click below:
Some recommended reading on Eldercare Communication:
How to Say it to Seniors by David Solie
Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders by Mary Pipher
Help! Mom Won’t Listen to Me! Eldercare Communication Tips by Aging Wisely
How to Have “The Talk” by Paula Spencer Scott, Caring.com
EasyLiving, Inc. also offers home care services gift certificates. These can be used for services like driving, light housekeeping, meal preparation and special holiday assistance. The caregiver can help shop for, wrap and ship gifts, address and stamp cards, make favorite holiday recipes or escort your loved one to a special event. Sometimes this gift is a great way to introduce services, in a positive manner. Call us at 727-448-0900 or fill out a gift certificate request online. We DO NOT charge you until services are booked, so you run no risk if for any reason the gift certificate goes unused.