Home for the Holidays
When it comes to spending the holidays with family, some things never seem to change. Aunt Harriet always makes her yummy pecan pie, Uncle Jack always drinks too much, your brother inevitably starts a political debate with your husband, and your parents always . . . well, hmmm, some things do change.
It’s human nature to resist change, and sometimes in our efforts to keep things the same, we fail to notice how our parents have changed. But while holiday visits are occasions for joy, love and tradition, they’re also an opportunity to really look at our parents, observing their homes and how well they are faring to determine if they need additional help living independently.
The holiday dinner table isn’t the place to bring up your concerns or get into heavy conversations. It’s best to trust your gut, and bring up your observations when the moment feels right, preferably in casual conversation.
Dad, I noticed you were having trouble getting down the stairs. How about we install better lighting on the staircase, and maybe a hand rail?
In the meantime, offer to help around the house without being asked. And in between the eating, drinking and merry-making, make note of the things to discuss with your siblings and/or address with your parents in future talks. Even if your parents insist they’re doing fine, check out the following areas to see if there is something they need help with.
• How do they look? Are they noticeably heavier or thinner? Do they stoop or stand upright? Have their looks changed in any significant way?
• How is their balance? A balance problem could indicate a medication problem or an incorrect eyeglass prescription, and warrants a visit to the doctor.
• Are their clothes rumpled or soiled when they used to be immaculate?
• Are they practicing good personal hygiene or have they let themselves go?
• How’s their hearing? If they’re giving you answers to questions that don’t make sense, they should have their hearing tested by a professional.
• If you don’t already know about their health problems and medications, now is the time to ask. Are they taking new medications? How do the drugs make them feel? Are their prescriptions up to date? Has their doctor reviewed all of their medications for side effects and potentially dangerous interactions? Are they taking their medications as directed? Would a pill organizer be helpful?
• Is the house clean and well-kept, or does it need more maintenance than usual? Offering to help with whatever needs to be done around the house will give you a pretty good idea of things that are not getting done.
• Does the stairway have handrails? Is the stairway well lit? Are carpet coverings tight or wood non-slippery?
• Rugs – Could rugs be a tripping hazard? A rumpled throw rug is a falling hazard. Non-skid rugs should be used on bathroom floors.
• Bathroom – Is there a step-in bathtub or walk-in shower? What about a shower chair? A toilet safety frame? Are there handrails in the shower and in the toilet area?
• Clutter – Are there newspapers, magazines, shoes and other materials lying around or on the stairs? Keep these things away from common walk areas.
• Storage – Is everything within easy reach? Eliminate the use of ladders and make sure storage items are in convenient, accessible locations.
• How’s their driving record? Have they been in any fender benders or received any tickets since your last visit?
• How’s their driving? Take a ride with them and observe their skills. Is their driving erratic or smooth? How is their reaction time? Are they obeying the driving laws? Do they miss signs and make risky maneuvers? Are you gripping an imaginary steering wheel the whole time?
• Check their mail. Are there late notices? Has the mail even been opened? Are bills stacking up?
• Are there bills they can’t pay?
• Do they keep all of their financial information in one place where you can access it in an emergency?
Their Mental Health
Memory loss does not necessarily mean that someone has dementia. A professional in this field gave me an analogy that sticks in my mind. She said that memory loss relates to someone who forgot where he or she put the car keys, but someone suffering from dementia may not remember that he or she owns a car in the first place.
Keep an eye out for the following signs, and if they persist, consult with a professional:
• Changes in short-term memory
• Trouble adding and subtracting
• Using words incorrectly when talking
• Jumbling words
• Becoming quiet and withdrawn
• Loss of interest or initiative
• Inability to carry out plans
• Becoming more angry, frustrated and restless
• Struggling to perform what used to be routine tasks
Have a wonderful time being with your family during the holidays. Give your parents the most thoughtful gift of all: your loving presence and caring attention.