What to do when a holiday visit with an aging parent sparks concerns
Chris Orestis, CSA and President of Retirement Genius.
As families reunite during the holidays, it’s not unusual for adult children who haven’t seen their aging parents in a while to begin to worry about them.
Are they experiencing health problems?
Are they still mentally on top of things?
Is it time to start thinking about long-term care?
“The holidays and their aftermath are the busiest time of year for long-term care admissions,” says Chris Orestis, president of Retirement Genius (www.retirementgenius.com) and an authority on retirement planning, long-term care and financial health.
“Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, families get together and many are seeing Mom or Dad for the first time in months. Some will discover that their parent’s health has declined and he or she should not be left to live on their own any longer.”
If you are concerned about aging parents, Orestis offers a few things to be on the lookout for:
- Physical deterioration. Be aware of potential signs such as significant weight loss, balance issues and falling, and loss of strength and stamina, Orestis says. “You might also see loss in what is known as ADL – activities of daily living,” he says. “That includes such things as the ability to dress, eat, shower or use the toilet independently.”
- Mental deterioration. It’s easy and tempting to blow off loss of memory or confusion about names, dates and locations as just a “senior moment,” Orestis says. “But cognitive deterioration is an important warning sign that you should be on the lookout for dementia and Alzheimer’s,” he says. “These conditions can worsen quickly and can lead to many physical breakdowns and safety issues.”
- Lifestyle deterioration. Maybe your parent was one of those sticklers for the adage “a place for everything and everything in its place,” but now the home isn’t kept so neatly. “You may even encounter things that are oddly out of place, such as a house plant in the refrigerator or pots and pans in the bathtub,” Orestis says. “Even more concerning, you might see signs of physical damage because they crashed the car into a fence or the wall of the garage, or there are burn marks on the kitchen wall from a flash fire. It’s important to remember that long-term care is not only a matter of healthcare, but also a matter of safety.”
Certainly, seniors want to remain independent as long as possible, and they don’t want to become a burden on their family, either physically or financially, Orestis says. As a result, they may try to avoid discussions about their health, mental capabilities and the possibility of the need for the assistance. Family members may be inclined to avoid these conversations as well.
“For some people, the need for long-term care can be brought on from a sudden event such as a fall, stroke, advancing dementia, or other health-related malady,” he says. “For others, it can slowly creep up over time and without realizing it one or more loved ones have become caregivers. Confronting the fact that a person has transitioned in life from being independent to dependent in one way or another is difficult.”
But eventually, if it becomes clear 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, Orestis says.
“That conversation should be handled with compassion and delicacy,” he says. “Emphasize that not only will this move improve their health and safety, but there will be numerous opportunities for social activities, games, art, entertainment and great food.
“The key is for the family to come together. Look for the signs that care is needed, formulate a plan, communicate effectively with your loved ones and change the perspective about long-term care from a negative to a safe, healthy and enriching experience in the continuing journey of life.”