Once again we’re preparing for families to come together over the holiday season. We long to see how our seniors are doing, especially those who are far away from us and living independently.
Are they ok? Have they been eating well? Is the house in good repair? Are they paying all the bills on time? Have they been keeping things from us?
Hopefully, during our visit with them to celebrate a time of family sharing we will be able to observe them for any signs that they need a little bit more help. There are many things we should be on the lookout for in their home, their own health and appearance, the car, the home and the yard.
You can read more about the warning signs in one of our earlier articles.
Another important thing we should do while we are visiting our senior loved ones is talk.
“Talk about what specifically,” you ask?
Serious Discussions with Parents & Other Senior Loved Ones
We might find some discussions hard to begin and others may be taboo in your family or culture. Unfortunately, once your parents reach a certain age (and you as well) it is recommended that these uncomfortable discussions happen and the answers clearly brought out into the open.
Whether you want to or not, some things are just better to know.
- Do they have any advance directives? Is there a living will created about which you should know? What are their wishes for end of life care? Do they have a DNR or a healthcare proxy to speak for them if they can’t? It is important to hear directly from them what they anticipate their end of life to be. What if they get into an accident or have a medical emergency? If you don’t talk openly about this eventuality it will be more difficult, especially if you are at a long distance, to make decisions in an emergency without prior knowledge. Do they have burial plans already? Read more in one of our articles about advance directives.
- If they have executed these documents, where are they kept? Can you get a copy? Does the doctor know about them and do they have a copy on file? Do they need to be updated?
- If they don’t have them created, can you do this during your visit so all their wishes are documented in case of an emergency? Now is a good time to get important documents executed while you are there to get the necessary information. These decisions must be made before your senior is no longer competent to make his wishes known legally.
- Do they have a will? Who is the executor? Where is the will kept – who is the attorney? Where are the contact numbers for lawyers, doctors, and other people if you need them?
- Are they still competent to drive safely? Has the car been damaged since your last visit? Take a ride as a passenger to test them, even if it is without them knowing your purpose for going for an ice cream cone together. We talked more about our senior loved ones and driving in an earlier article.
- Are they declining in functional status? Does it look like they are having difficulty keeping themselves neat and tidy? Are their clothes clean and in good repair? Are they shaving? Do they have unexplained bruises? Are they appearing thin or weak? Are they having trouble balancing themselves when they walk or get up from sitting? Do they need more help?
- Is their home still adequate to age in place? Is it where they want to be or would they rather come closer to you, go to a senior living area or move to a smaller home that is easier to care for alone? Some seniors enjoy living in an assisted living facility where they have less responsibility and more opportunity for social engagement. Is their current home accessible to transportation services if they can no longer drive? Is their home in good repair with adequate safety modifications to prevent accidents? Can you work on some modifications while you visit and schedule other more involved upgrades for when you are not there?
- Are they depressed or isolated? Some seniors choose to stay home and reduce their visits to places, people and events that they once frequented for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are afraid to drive, don’t want to go alone, can’t leave the house for too long for fear of needing a restroom quickly, or have side effects of medications that keep them from being active. Seniors need to be social, mentally stimulated and engaged to prevent boredom and loneliness. It might be a good time to get them reconnected, take them to the senior center and arrange transportation if necessary. Find things for them to be active and involved from home. Set up some technology and teach them to use it so they can use social media, Skype or Facetime to engage with distant family and friends.
- What about their finances? Do they have enough money to meet their needs? Are they paying their bills? Do they have a supplemental insurance policy or long term care policy which you should be aware? Are they struggling to make ends meet? Are they getting the benefit of all — well — benefits to which they are entitled?
And you thought you were going to get a vacation and enjoy some turkey or cookies? Just waiting for your senior to cook you your favorite meal?
Make the Most of Holiday Visits
Spending time with your senior loved one can be purposeful and a source of enjoyment at one time. Be observant in all the activities you share during your visit. Keep communication open and ask leading questions that require them to make full answers not ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘fine’.
You may be surprised what you can learn by keeping your eyes and ears open to nuances and maybe even the obvious.
Some of these discussions will be hard, some of these topics are difficult for you and them. They don’t want to think they are near the end but should be able to discuss it so that you are all prepared. Some subjects could be thought to be too personal such as finances and personal health. They don’t want to feel like they are burdening you.
Being prepared and able to plan ahead instead of trying to handle affairs in emergency situations will make you glad you had these holiday talks and got the answers you need to be a successful long distance (or nearby) caregiver.
Don’t forget that some of the things on the list above are things you should also have done for yourself as caregiver so that if something should happen to you, others know what to do to take over what you do so well if you get sidelined. Is your living will completed or advance directives? Have you gotten your preventive health care so that you don’t get pneumonia or flu that keeps you from being a caregiver for an extended period of time? Do it for them!
Be sure you also enjoy the time spent with senior loved ones over the holidays. This time is precious, after all.