The Holiday Check In

With the holiday season around the corner, families will be spending more time together. Elder caring expert, Audrey Miller discusses how the holidays can be a good time to notice change and be proactive in a supportive and non threatening way.

For many of us, holidays can be a difficult time. They can be filled with memories of past holidays and remembering loved ones who are no longer alive or who are no longer able to sit around the family table. For many it is a time of reflection, and a passing of time. It is hard for many of us as adult children to watch our parent’s health deteriorate. It is hard to see that their current health no longer allows them to remember the names of their grandchildren, or family recipes that they can no longer follow. If you live in a different city than your parents, the time spent together during the holiday can allow you to see how well they are managing. Be aware of the small things and things that are different. For example, is Mom now finishing Dad’s sentences because she always has or is he now not able to complete the sentence himself?

Here are a few suggestions.

  • Don’t interrogate, use your observation and gentle questioning to determine how they are managing,
  • Take a drive with them,
  • Offer to make a meal with them or take them out for a meal; social awareness or lack thereof may be an indication of a change,
  • Start a conversation about the ‘what if’s’-
  • Find out what plans they have made should their health suddenly change,
  • Do they have a power of attorney in place,
  • Is there a list of emergency contact names and numbers on an easy to find location, should there be a need? (I personally like to place the emergency contact list on the refrigerator),
  • Take a look in the fridge to check expiry dates on the food or if there are blackened pots in the cupboard,
  • Pay attention whether they appear more frail or less stable on their feet,
  • Does the house seem unusually unkempt?
  • Is Mom, who was always a meticulous dresser now wearing stained clothes?

Part of this journey is acknowledging that your parents may need your assistance but are reluctant to show you or tell you that they need help. Pride and embarrassment can sometimes get in the way. To be sensitive to a parent’s needs, we have to get past our own denial about their health changes and perhaps their own denial as well. Assistance can be offered in many non threatening ways; such as, arranging for snow cleaning service or a house cleaning service or arranging to have a prepared meal delivered. Listening and hearing what they have to say or don’t say can also be a form of assistance.

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