Holidays Should Be Fun, Not Frightening


In the elder care industry, it is well known that holidays create a surge of calls to resources who can help Mom or Dad or Aunt Julia or my wonderful neighbor with challenges faced at home.  Those Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) we thought were under control turn out not to be.

For a whole lot of great reasons, holidays bring families and friends together.  Most of those reasons involve great food, conversation, a lot of joy.  However, holiday “get togethers” also provide the opportunity to see how folks are doing as they go through the aging process.

Once again, “The New Old Age” column in The New York Times is spot on with an article called “The Holiday Reality Check,”  The article quotes someone in the elder care field saying what we have often observed ourselves at Support For Home:  “[Family members have] been talking with their parents all year, being told everything is fine. Then they get there, and it’s not fine. And the kids freak out.”

The problem the family / friends face is that if they were able to be there more often, to take care of the needs their loved one has, they would be!  There would be no surprises of no food (or expired food) in the refrigerator or signs of hoarding or dents in the car from the accident(s) about which they did not hear.

The surprises occur because the family is unable to keep tabs on what is happening, much less do anything to “fix” things.  So, what can Mom’s adult children do, if time and physical / geographical restraints prevent them from more frequent personal checks on Mom?

There are resources, local to Mom’s community, that can help prevent those surprises.  Good private duty (home care) agencies (check out members of the National Private Duty Association) can perform visits even once per month, at very low cost, to see how Mom is doing, maybe take her shopping or out to lunch, if she does not (or should not) drive.

The agency can then talk to the family – email, conference call, posted info on a shared, secure Website – about how things are going and whether there is any further need, over time.  Obviously, you want an agency with integrity and quality standards, which is why I would recommend an NPDA member.

The bottom line is not that our elders will need assistance.  The focus is avoiding surprises – and crises – by having information in a timely manner.  As Paula Span, the article’s author says,

Our older relatives keep chugging along, past 70 and past 75 and then past 80; we can be forgiven for thinking that with a few meds and a hearing aid, they will function well forever. But most older Americans do need some sort of hands-on assistance eventually, and the holidays are often when their families recognize that “eventually” has arrived.

We can, and should, make that recognition happen earlier, with a simple, precautionary plan such as I describe above.

Best wishes.  Bert

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