Caregiving Now: After the holiday visit
By Liz Foss
For some families, the holidays are a time to “check in” with parents they may not have seen in person for a while. It is a great opportunity to see how they are really doing in ways that can’t always be determined over the phone. Your parent may tell you everything is fine – they are eating well and even describe an outing with friends in detail. But nothing beats eyes on the situation to get the actual picture.
Now that the holidays are over, you can take some time to think about your family visit.
Did the initial hug give you any information? Has there been a change in weight? Maybe Mom isn’t really eating so well, or conversely, has given in to her sweet tooth more than is healthy. You might have noticed that her clothes aren’t as clean as usual or that she hasn’t bathed recently. These are signs that she isn’t caring for herself as well as in the past. The reason could be as simple as difficulty carrying a laundry basket or navigating the stairs down to the basement. Maybe getting into the shower safely is worrying her. Or there could be memory loss that is the beginning of a more serious diagnosis.
Hopefully you got a chance to take a look through the mail. If you find unpaid bills or correspondence with charities, these are cause for concern. Difficulty with handling finances is one of the early signs of dementia, especially in someone who has handled this fine all of his or her life. And we all have heard of charities that prey on vulnerable seniors.
Socializing with friends and neighbors may give you insight into how your folks are doing without your having to ask specifically. You may have heard that your Dad has been missed at the bowling league, while this is the first you have heard that he isn’t going. Or someone may mention that they saw the ambulance, police car, fire truck or whatever there. Not a good thing for you to be hearing as a surprise.
The condition of the house itself will give you a lot of clues as to how your parent is doing. You will be the best judge by comparing the past to the present. Cobwebs and wilted plants may have always been the norm, but if not, you have cause for concern. Expired food – or no food – is something to worry about.
What should you do if you find some of these changes? As always, communication is key. Each family has had their own way of communicating over the years. Sometimes, parents will be open to an offer of help from their adult children. Others will find the admission that they need help an obstacle too great to overcome. The roles of parent-child reversing can be tough for families. Finances play a huge role: Who will pay for help if it is needed? Navigating change is something many adults do in their professional lives, and they can take lessons from that for doing the same with their parents. One step at a time, creating buy-in, enabling a parent to maintain as much autonomy as possible are things to consider.
Liz Foss runs the Worcester area Seniors Helping Seniors, a non-medical, in-home care agency. Having worked as an accountant for nonprofits for many years, Foss now has her own business, which hires active seniors to help people remain in their homes for as long as possible. Seniors Helping Seniors provides services in Worcester County. For more information, visit seniorshelpingseniors.com/worcesterarea, call (508) 885-6004 or email Foss at email@example.com.