The ongoing pandemic has prompted many family caregivers to rethink how to celebrate this holiday season. Canceling large gatherings and taking other steps to minimize risks of exposure to COVID-19 are priority. The pandemic also complicates matters for adult children who live far away from their elderly parents. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, around 15 percent of family caregivers live more than an hour away from their care recipient. This group of approximately 5 million caregivers face the added challenge of assessing the well-being of their loved ones, as the holidays often are the only time of the year that they get to spend quality time with mom or dad.
For long-distance family caregivers, holiday visits are a good time to assess what assistance parents or other elderly loved ones might need. The holidays also provide an opportunity to have those “must-have” conversations with elderly loved ones and other family members about care options and planning for the future. The season offers a chance to watch for any warning signs that a senior loved one needs care sooner rather than later.
Adult children who have decided not to visit mom and dad to minimize risk can use technology and services to regularly check in on them. AARP caregiver expert Amy Goyer suggests video-calling loved ones as a way to maintain social connection but also to virtually check in on their mental wellbeing and physical spaces. Another option to consider is an in-home monitoring system like Amada Connect with voice-activated, emergency response devices. For those uncertain where to start, reach out to Amada Senior Care as a resource to ask about options for in-home assistance designed to keep elderly loved ones safe and healthy.
For adult children who can safely visit mom and dad during the holidays, what are some of the “must-have” conversations and why are they essential? One is end-of-life care planning. While it seems like a dreary conversation to have, it is one that is essential when it comes to your family’s peace of mind. While estate planning is important, you should also consider creating an Advance Healthcare Directive, which lays out your loved one’s medical wishes in a life-or-death situation. It also appoints an agent to speak on their behalf.
Are your loved ones financially prepared for the possibility of needing long-term care? What is their “aging plan” – would they prefer to stay in their home no matter what, or is an assisted living community an option? Discussing your loved ones’ needs, wishes, and options will include them in the preparations for the likelihood of needing long term care, whether it is needed next week or 20 years from now.
Dr. Melissa Henston, a geriatric psychologist in private practice with Colorado NeuroBehavioral Health, said it’s important to tread carefully when starting these conversations. “Typically, you need to look for the opening and opportunity, rather than just jumping in,” she said. “Don’t try to take control. Try to get a natural conversation going.” Henston also said to still respect the parent-child relationship. She suggests setting the right tone by sitting in a comfortable location, starting with a normal and conversational tone, and asking open-ended questions to start the flow of conversation.
“Elderly loved ones usually appreciate an honest conversation,” Henston said. “If you discuss that it’s important to communicate their wishes for retirement and end-of-life care, you’ll go farther than if you are condescending or dishonest.”
Spending time with your loved one, especially in their home, also gives you a chance to evaluate their physical, mental, and emotional health, and to spot any warning signs that they may need assistance. It’s usually easy to tell if there are problems – you will quickly notice if things seem “off” or out of the ordinary. A few things to look out for are:
- Poor diet or weight loss
- Unpaid bills or trouble keeping up with finances
- Poor personal hygiene
- Mobility issues – getting in and out of chairs, difficulty balancing, walking slowly
- Unkempt house, clutter, and laundry piling up
- Forgetting to take medications
- Unexplained dents or scratches on the car
- Extreme mood swings
- Spoiled/expired groceries
If you notice any of the red flags above, it is crucial to start those “must-have” conversations, no matter how difficult it seems. Ignoring these warning signs often puts families in difficult situations when a crisis occurs, especially those without any plans in place. This holiday season may be the best time for you to talk to your family and senior loved ones about planning for the future. While the topics can be difficult, the peace of mind they provide is priceless.