Visiting aging relatives over the holidays
As families reunite during the holidays, adult children who haven’t seen mom or dad for a while may notice unsettling things about their aging parents or other relatives, and questions will begin to swirl.
Are they experiencing health problems? Are they still mentally on top of things? Should the family start having conversations about long-term care?
Here are a few things to be on the lookout for as you gather for celebrations with aging relatives:
Physical deterioration. Be aware of potential signs such as significant weight loss, balance issues and falling, and loss of strength and stamina.
You might also see changes in activities of daily living. That includes such things as the ability to dress, eat, shower or use the toilet independently.
Mental deterioration. If your parent exhibits loss of memory or is confused about names, dates and locations, you might be tempted to blow that off as just a “senior moment.” And perhaps it is nothing more than that.
But be aware that cognitive deterioration is an important warning signal that you should be on the lookout for dementia and Alzheimer’s. These conditions can worsen quickly and can lead to physical breakdowns and safety issues.
Lifestyle deterioration. Maybe mom or dad was always insistent on observing the adage “a place for everything and everything in its place,” but now the home is in disarray. You may open the refrigerator to discover a house plant next to the milk, or find pots and pans in the bathtub.
Even more troubling, you might notice signs of physical damage because they crashed the car into a fence or the wall of the garage, or see burn marks on the kitchen wall from a fire. Remember: Long-term care is not only a matter of healthcare, but also a matter of safety.
Start a conversation
Most older adults prefer to be independent as long as possible, and they also want to avoid becoming a burden on their family, either physically or financially. As a result, they may try to sidestep discussions about their health, mental capabilities and the possibility of the need for the assistance.
Family members, uncomfortable with broaching the topic, may be inclined to dodge these conversations as well.
For some people, a sudden event such as a fall, a stroke, advancing dementia or other health-related malady can bring on the need for long-term care. For others, it creeps up slowly. Then, over time, almost without realizing it, one or more loved ones have become caregivers.
Confronting the fact that a person has transitioned from being independent to dependent in one way or another is difficult.
Eventually, if it becomes clear that professional long-term care is needed, family members should discuss a plan for making that happen. After that, the conversation should take place with the loved one in question, who may be apprehensive or even resistant.
Emphasize positive aspects. Explain that this move will not only improve their health and safety, but there will be opportunities for social activities, games, art, entertainment and great food.
Ultimately, it’s important for the family to come together. Try to change the perspective about long-term care from a negative to a safe, healthy and enriching experience in the continuing journey of life.
Chris Orestis specializes in retirement planning and long-term care and is president of Retirement Genius, www.retirementgenius.com.