Those of us who have aging loved ones living far away have an opportunity to provide special holiday cheer. Spending time with family members can be a gift all on its own, but consider visits as a chance to do much more than bestow your mom with a fruitcake or a new gadget.
When my parents were living 1200 miles from me, they were really good at disguising their ailments. We spoke regularly on the phone, but my father didn’t want to worry me. Once I SAW him, he could no longer hide his conditions, and I had to become involved.
Bearing this in mind, when you go to visit your folks for the holidays, here are some things to observe:
1) The refrigerator: look for old, expired or unsafe food
2) Check the medicine cabinet for expired medications
3) Look for clutter: piled up periodicals, unpaid bills
4) Still driving? Inspect the car for unexplained dents and dings.
If they’re coming to you:
1) Do they seem confused in your home?
2) How well are they walking and moving?
3) Are they repeating themselves? Do they ask the same question over and over?
If they seem well, steady on their feet and cognitively intact, that’s wonderful! You are blessed and have the opportunity to start gently asking more difficult questions: Do they have updated wills? Have they considered who would advocate for them when they can no longer advocate for themselves? Have they thought about end of life arrangements and how to pay for them?
These are topics that may trigger some discomfort, so proceed gently and be ready to drop it if things get too heated. But do have some stories at the ready. By talking about celebrities, you can begin the conversation in a non-threatening way that encourages them to think of their own future. And it gives you a chance to learn their thoughts are on these scary subjects.
You may not get too far with your first attempts, but you could get the door open a crack. And by initiating this grown up conversation, you just might give them some peace of mind and help yourself to begin some important planning for all of your futures. These are some of the most loving gifts families can bestow upon each other during the holidays.
Tracey Lawrence is the Founder of Grand Family Planning LLC and author of “Dementia Sucks.”
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