Holidays: Unique Opportunity
for Families to Connect
Holiday merry-making is a wonderful thing. In a stressful world, we welcome a season of refreshment for body and soul.
Deck the Halls
Over the river and through the woods, To Grandmother’s house we go; The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh; Through the white and drifted snow.
And haven’t we all been part of this colorful scene?...Multiple generations gathered in the family home, animated conversations everywhere, settling in at the dining table where a flushed cook scurries in and out of the kitchen. It’s a Rockwell painting. It’s the quintessential American scene. It’s the Holidays.
All the fuss and bustle are worth it. For reunions satisfy our core need for connection with those we love most. For many, this is rare time of togetherness for all those called Family.
In such moments, the conversation often turns to the health of its most senior members. “So, Dad, how are you getting on these days?” “Jack, just how do you think Mom is doing lately?”
Nothing brings home the realities of aging like seeing it at work in our own parents. The prospect of our mortality calls for insight, resources and courage. Most of all, we are called to walk the road together as Family.
The holidays are full of opportunities to savor the time. In these relaxed settings, a family can begin to explore possible next steps for aging parents.
Start with a light topic, then resolve to focus on your parents’ agenda at their own pace. Only when we first hear and speak to a senior’s concerns, can we hope for a real exchange of ideas. Issues of Control and Legacy will rise in every conversation. Listen for them. Respond with open-ended questions that gently:
- Emphasize your sincerity to hear and understand
- Suggest ways for the senior to maintain control and dignity
- Acknowledge a senior’s wealth of experience and wisdom
- Posture yourself as an advocate for them and their priorities
- Unite the family as a whole in finding a solution
- Seek not just facts, but context and emotion
- End on an upbeat note, paving the way for the next healthy conversation
While respect for your parents’ independence is consummate, do all you can to ensure they are healthy, safe and enjoying life to the fullest. While visiting in their home, be aware of signs that they may need some additional help—indicators that your loved one could be struggling in a changing landscape.
Housekeeping: If you notice that your parent’s house looks more cluttered or is not as clean as it once was, it could mean they’re not physically able to clean up anymore or their eyesight has deteriorated. Consider the resulting tripping or sanitation hazards.
Home Environment: Evaluate whether the layout of the home itself is no longer conducive to safe and easy movement. Stairs can be one of the chief culprits.
Weight Loss or Gain: Loss of appetite can be a sign of a medical problem. Perhaps they are having trouble working the stove, can’t get to the grocery often enough, or are simply forgetting to eat. Weight gain may also be precipitated by a medical issue. Reaching for extra snacks could be a way of coping with depression.
Hygiene: If you’re noticing your loved one has body odor, bad breath or even sores, it suggests that they may need someone to help with activities of daily grooming.
Wounds: If your loved one always seems to have bruises or scrapes, especially on the head, it’s cause for concern. It could mean they are experiencing falls due to poor balance, missed medications or alcohol use.
Financial Irregularities: Is your parent forgetting to keep up with finances and household paper-work? They may be falling victim to aggressive salesmen or scammers. Is it time for you to take over some of their financial matters? Discuss which charities are important to them and remove their name from the rest to better steward their resources.
Forgetfulness and Mood Changes: While only a neurologist can diagnose dementia, unusual changes in mood, like increased agitation, prolonged silences or uncharacteristic behavior, together with forgetfulness could point to a loss in cognition.
Is it Time for a Life Transition?
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