Getting together with family during the holidays is such a joyous time. We get to spend time with kids, grandkids, grandparents, cousins, all sorts of loved ones whether they travel to us or we go to them.
As everyone is catching up on their lives, their news, even the weather, this is also an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with family about their care needs.
It’s Not Just You
You may already be a family caregiver and not even know it. There are an estimated 43 million family caregivers in the United States, according to a survey by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. Of those, this survey found, about 39.8 are caring for an adult. To put it another way, 85% of those caregivers are caring for a relative with 49% caring for a parent or parent-in-law.
The reasons someone needs care can vary, though with Alzheimer’s or dementia increasing in the population worldwide—an estimated 46.8 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2015, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International—more and more people need help as this disease progresses. As they age, people sometimes just struggle with activities of daily living (referred to as ADLs), such as bathing or showering, dressing or instrumental activities of daily living (called “IADLs”) like doing housework, making meals, and adhering to medication instructions.
Are Mom and Dad Alright?
When spending time with your elder loved one during the holidays look for warning signs that they may be needing more help before they can admit it to you. It’s not necessary — or particularly productive — to point out any issues you see to this individual. Simply be aware and then share these insights with others—maybe your spouse or sibling—who could be involved in this care down the road.
Warning signs can include difficulty rising unaided from a sitting position, unkempt appearance, extreme mood swings, or if you are at their home you can look for things like stale food, unpaid bills, garbage piling up.
Who’s To Say?
Right now, your loved ones may be doing just fine and continue to take care of themselves so it seems silly to ask them about their future care needs. Yet for their benefit and yours, open up the channels of communication sooner rather than later. Think of it like this: do you want to have a “what if?” conversation before an emergency arises or a “what now?” conversation later when there is an urgent need?
Many families find themselves in a situation where an emergency puts a decision about long-term care front and center in a hurry. When it comes time to have the conversation with your loved ones, it’s a good idea to start with an innocent “ice breaker” like, “Can I get your opinion on a couple of things?” Additionally, use the word “help” carefully. That word comes with a connotation that seniors see as a loss of independence. When going into the first discussion, know that it is just that: the first one. There will probably be several talks while the family goes over details.
If possible, prepare a script ahead of time. You shouldn’t actually use it, but it helps to organize your thoughts. The script or letter lets you pinpoint your precise concerns and target subjects you may feel too awkward or anxious to initially say out loud. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can talk with a doctor or a friend who already has experience with this type of situation and they can even be there with you when you have the conversation with your parents.
Pay attention to how you listen to your loved ones and listen actively. Don’t come in with preconceived expectations of what your mother or father will say – they will probably surprise you. Also, try putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes before, during and after the conversation. How would you feel if your children were in your place, having the same conversation with you?
As you define the big picture, make sure you understand what is most important to your loved ones. Often this focuses on the idea they will lose independence. It’s hard for people to feel dependent on others – even if it’s their own family members. You should also be ready for how much your life will change if your parents are suddenly dependent on you.
Whether the preference is for assisted living, a nursing home, in home care, living with a family member, make sure you do a lot of research as this conversation—possibly started during the holidays—continues between you both. Your research may include visiting facilities, a new city, interviewing caregivers, and creating schedules with other relatives and neighbors.
*Top image: Talking with your loved ones about their care needs can be beneficial to you both. Photo by Kim Cook/Courtesy of Homewatch International, Inc.
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