Most families enjoy special moments during the holidays, whether they travel great distances to meet or just come across town.
It is a time of year when caregivers take a break from our hectic schedules to sit down with the ones they love and reminisce about the good times they have shared.
As seniors get older, these time become even more precious to them and the whole family.
It is important for family members to have enough time planned to get comfortable, have time to reacquaint yourself with out of town family, and spend time with your senior loved one when they can connect.
There should also be time set aside to “talk turkey” with the entire family around the table with your senior and take advantage of the opportunity of togetherness.
Talking Turkey About the Future
Many caregivers may be looking across the table at parents, grandparents or other senior loved ones who appear to be aging right before their very eyes.
Reality strikes as caregivers realize that these family times will not last forever.
This is a great opportunity to discuss topics that might have been hard to raise in the past, such as what would happen in case your senior is hospitalized, injured during a fall, gets a terminal condition, needs placement in a facility or should die suddenly.
Has the family discussed these possibilities and are they ready for the challenges that may face them if a tragedy occurs?
Together there are some questions you should be asking out loud and expect answers from your senior loved one.
Do You Know…
- if your senior loved one has advance directives, such as a living will or a healthcare/durable power of attorney? Who knows where they can be found when needed?
- who is the power of attorney or the executor of their estate and how do you contact them?
- their wishes for medical care if a calamity strikes? Do they want to be kept alive artificially or do they want nutrition to be given in the form of a tube feeding?
- if they wish to have a Do Not Resusciate (DNR) order or do they want everything done despite potential consequences?
- who will take care of their pets if they no longer can?
- if they have a funeral home picked out or a burial site already planned/paid for, do they want to be cremated, do they have an outfit already picked out and a plan for a memorial service?
- the names of their doctors, which medications they take, which hospital they prefer, and when they had a flu or pneumonia shot?
- if there is a will directing who gets what in their house or their finances?
- where their checkbook is or which bank they use?
- if they have a safety deposit box with valuables and/or important papers?
- if there are passwords for accounts or computer sites that you will need to know to access if they no longer can do so themselves?
- do they want to stay in their home for as long as possible, if they’re OK if they need to go to a senior living facility near you, or prefer to be close to friends and the community they know?
- who they want controlling their finances if they can’t any longer?
- everything they would want you to know in the case of emergency?
Time Is Now
Now is the time to learn all you can so caregivers can help them through the tough spots as they age and especially in the event of an emergency.
Being informed will allow caregivers to act quickly and decisively when time is of the essence.
It is a good time to make observations about the functional abilities of your senior instead of accepting that everything is fine.
What can you see for yourself? Is there food in the kitchen and its not all spoiled, are their clothes clean, are they physically stable, is the home in good repair, is the car damaged from fender benders of which you aren’t aware, are there unpaid bills laying on tables or counters or other problems that become obvious when you look closely?
If your family doesn’t agree on some of your senior’s decisions, now is the time for open dialogue.
Siblings arguing over what senior loved ones want in the emergency room is not going to help keep them alive.
Be sure their wishes are clearly understood and written in the form of an advance directive that will help guide healthcare professionals when the time comes.
Also be sure that your senior is integral to every step so that they can speak up for themselves and let everyone know their wishes.
Some seniors may need you to be aware of their personal schedule when you visit to talk turkey especially when these topics are discussed. Perhaps they have a special nap time or take a bath at a certain time. You should work the family into their schedule for best results and allow for rest periods as needed.
Some of these topics are hard to talk about but openness is vital. Ignoring the issue will not change the outcome.
A little planning will be helpful such as have someone be the recorder so there won’t be any miscommunication or lost details in the future.
If necessary, create a schedule with out of town family and keep things short and to the point.
This isn’t the time to bring up old hurts or blame family members for past issues, put the focus on your senior’s needs and wants.
It may be painful to think of your senior as being mortal or that they may not be able to care for themselves, but getting these issues out in the open so everyone knows what to do in an emergency will be empowering for family caregivers.
Just as important, it relieves your senior loved one of a burden, as they will not longer have to worry about leaving all those issues for a loved one to resolve later.