November 27, 2023 —Nearly 113 million people in the U.S. are expected to travel over the next several weeks to spend time with loved ones. Indeed, getting together with family is the best part of the holiday season!
A Unique Opportunity
With hectic schedules temporarily on hold and dear ones gathered leisurely around the table, it’s also the ideal time to assess an older parent or relative’s health and wellness.
Is something different about mom or dad? Are they struggling in ways they didn’t before? How can you tell? How can you begin “must have” conversations?
Let’s explore these important questions as we prepare to join with older family members this holiday season.
5 Things to Watch For
While there are many signs an older parent or relative may need help beyond what they can provide for themselves, here are some key indicators that their overall well-being may have diminished:
- Decreased hygiene and/or housekeeping. Does someone who is typically well-groomed, clean and neatly dressed appear less put together? Are there piles of laundry lying around, dirty dishes in the sink, spoiled food in the refrigerator, evidence of hoarding? Do you notice bodily odors, unkempt hair, unwashed or messy clothing? These are indications that your loved one may be less able to manage activities of daily living, including bathing, dressing, grooming or even toileting.
- Confusion or cognitive impairment. Some degree of memory loss is to be expected as we age. Forgetting a word, name or appointment occasionally is little cause for concern. However, if your loved one seems atypically confused or unable to perform once familiar tasks, gets lost often in conversation, cannot follow simple directions, (to name just a few signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s), it may be time to consider memory care or help beyond what your loved one can safely manage on their own.
- Bumps, bruises and other physical limitations. If you notice marks on your older relative’s body (or their vehicle), this could mean they are struggling with balance, strength, poor eyesight, hearing or coordination. According to the CDC, about 36 million falls are reported each year among Americans aged 65+, resulting in over 32,000 deaths. Other common physical complaints are dehydration, frequent urinary tract infections, malnutrition and weight loss (especially as cooking healthy meals can become difficult for older people), temperature insensitivity, dizziness, bladder and bowel problems. All of these and more symptoms of advanced age can lead to greater health problems if not adequately addressed by care professionals.
- Social inactivity. Has your parent or relative become withdrawn, unable or unwilling to participate in social engagements? Have they become less conversational; do they seem depressed, anxious or lacking interest in people and things they would normally enjoy? Social isolation is devastating, especially for older adults who have lost friends, spouses and the ability to get out and about.
- Poor judgment. Unusual or excessive spending, habitually falling for scams, uncharacteristically inappropriate comments, unpaid bills, bounced checks, medication missteps…all these and more are signs that your loved one may be experiencing physical, emotional or cognitive challenges beyond their control.
Having Difficult But Oh-So-Necessary Conversations
In a perfect world, potentially tough conversations with older loved ones about changes in their health and wellness would occur with plenty of time to contemplate the best care plan or living environment.
However, health changes can happen quickly and require “crisis action,” leaving older adults and their families little or no time to make ideal choices.
That’s why it’s essential to begin conversations about your older relative’s health and wellness now. You don’t have to make this the sole topic of conversation at the Holiday table, but it’s important to express your concerns with them as soon as possible.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Become informed. Thorough research from reputable sources is essential. Consider your loved one’s care needs, optimal geographic area and living environment (at home or an adult community), finances, lifestyle preferences and other factors. If possible, be prepared with what you’ve learned before you approach discussions. Additionally, having a solid understanding of the topic enhances the quality of your contributions. If not, assure them you will explore options with them or on their behalf, and make it a priority. Here are some trusted local and national resources to help you get started:
- Lead with compassion. Chances are, your older parent or relative is aware of their limitations. However, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll want to talk about it; in fact, just the opposite may be true. Proceed firmly, but gently. Assure them that you love and care for them, you understand this is difficult and likely frightening, you have their best interests at heart, and you are their champion and teammate. While it is important to convey expediency, do not pressure, shame or condescend to them. Empower them by treating them like the intelligent adult they are – the most important person in the conversation.
- Have a plan. Lay out a strategy with your loved one, starting with key points to raise and anticipating questions or concerns they will likely have. If possible, join with other family members (including their spouse, if applicable) to make sure everyone is on the same page and there are no conflicts or differences of opinion that will make hard conversations even more difficult.
- Be honest and realistic. Be candid about the changes and new regimens that may come. Sugarcoating realities or downplaying concerns will only complicate matters. But be sure to stay positive, because there is much to be hopeful and excited about in seeking better living!
Barclay Friends Is Here to Help
Whatever your loved one needs, Barclay Friends provides a full continuum of warm, compassionate care with living options ranging from Residential (independent) Living to Personal Care, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing, and Short-Term Rehabilitation, all on one beautiful campus.
Nestled in a quiet neighborhood in the heart of West Chester, Barclay Friends offers residents secure, home-like accommodations with none of the chores and responsibilities and all of the freedom to explore new interests, learn new things and make new friends.
For residents and their families, Barclay Friends focus on healthful, mindful living in a true spirit of community offers priceless peace of mind. There is no greater gift than that!