National View: Holiday visit with an aging parent can spark concerns, conversations
From the column: "Confronting that a person has transitioned in life from being independent to dependent in one way or another is difficult."
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. 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, there are a few things to be on the lookout for.
Physical deterioration is one. Be aware of potential signs such as significant weight loss, balance issues and falling, and the loss of strength and stamina. You might also see loss in what is known as ADL: activities of daily living. They include such things as the ability to dress, eat, shower, or use the toilet independently.
Mental deterioration is another red flag. It’s easy and tempting to blow off the loss of memory or confusion about names, dates, and locations as just “senior moments.” But cognitive deterioration is an important warning sign that you should be on the lookout for dementia and Alzheimer’s. These conditions can worsen quickly and can lead to many physical breakdowns and safety issues.”
Look also for signs of lifestyle deterioration. Maybe your parent was one of those sticklers for “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. Even more concerning, you might see signs of physical damage from the car crashed into a fence or the wall of the garage. Or 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 health care but a matter of safety.
Certainly, seniors want to remain independent for as long as possible, and they don’t want to become a burden on their family, either physically or financially. As a result, they may try to avoid discussions about their health, mental capabilities, and the possibility of needing 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. For others, it can slowly creep up over time and, without realizing it, one or more loved ones have become caregivers.
Confronting 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.
That conversation should be handled with compassion and delicacy. Emphasize that not only will the move improve their health and safety, 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.”
Chris Orestis of Portland, Maine, is president of Retirement Genius (retirementgenius.com) and has more than 25 years of experience in the insurance and long-term care industries. A former Washington, D.C., lobbyist who has worked in both the White House and for the Senate Majority Leader on Capitol Hill, he is the author of three books, including “Retire Like a Genius,” published this year.