Holidays, Caregivers and Family: Making the Most of Time Together
This is a good opportunity to have important discussions
One of the best things about the holidays is getting together with family and friends. It may be one of the few times of the year for out-of-town family to spend extended time with an older parent or relative. In addition to reminiscing and making new memories, this time provides the opportunity to take a critical look at the health and wellness of the loved one and her surroundings.
These are a few areas I recommend checking on and suggestions to remedy potential issues:
- Check for loose rugs that can cause a fall, and repair or remove any.
- Make sure there is adequate lighting, particularly around stairs.
- The bathroom can be a dangerous place; consider adding grab bars or a shower chair.
- Check the refrigerator for old or expired food.
- Buy a pill organizer to make taking medications easier. Talk to her primary care physician to ensure the doctor has a complete list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications she takes.
- Older adults are especially susceptible to the flu and pneumonia. Getting these shots is a quick and inexpensive way to prevent these potentially dangerous illnesses.
- Be concerned if she has trouble judging distance or drives too fast or too slow. If you find driving issues, it may be time for the car to go in for “extended repairs” while you create a long-term plan.
- Does her home appear safe and livable?
- Is she taking medications as directed?
- Has she had her flu and pneumonia shots?
- How does she drive?
Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
If you’re a caregiver, this can also be one of the most difficult times of the year since there can be precious little time to get “everything” done.
When a local sibling is the primary caregiver of an aging parent, she may face increased stress during the holidays. Out-of-town visitors may see this time as a vacation, but the caregiver still must navigate her daily life along with a parent’s continuing needs, including doctor’s appointments and errands.
A challenge or risk you have identified in a parent may be something the caregiver has struggled with for some time. Your sibling could take suggestions as criticism, but often would appreciate support. If you’re the out-of-towner, pitch in to give the local family member a break and find a way to show your gratitude for this difficult and important role.
For those whose parents or relatives are older and live far away, coming together for the holidays often means difficult conversations about aging. While these talks can be intimidating and uncomfortable, they are an important way to make sure your loved one is safe and well-cared for when you are not in town to help.
Once you understand what’s working and what’s not, it may be time for The Talk.
Having "The Talk" is extremely difficult for adult children. Roles and responsibilities are shifting, and no one wants to tell a parent how she has to change her life. But sometimes it’s necessary. The type of discussion depends on the cognitive abilities of the older adult.
An easy discussion is the daily pill organizer. Many older adults take a large variety of medications and keeping track can be difficult. The use of a pill organizer can be presented in such a way that the older adult sees the value in its long-term use.
Suggestions for home repairs and the addition of assistive devices like grab bars may be seen as welcome improvements that will make things easier.
The discussions get more difficult, but are no less important, when the topics include driving or moving to a smaller home or apartment — or the future.
Advance Care Planning
During the holidays, there’s also an opportunity to have a face-to-face discussion about advance care planning. Simply put, advance care planning means putting together a health plan for the future when the older parent may not have the capacity to do so. An extremely positive aspect of the plan is that it lets others know the person's wishes now to ensure her care in the future.
While these caregiver topics are serious and difficult to broach, I also encourage the caregivers I work with to find the good and fun in the holidays. Try to find the humor in awkward situations, don’t take yourself or the situation too seriously and don't be shy about asking visiting siblings to take a turn at caregiving while you take some time for yourself.
With some preparation among siblings and parents, the holiday season can indeed be the most wonderful time of the year.