Aging Parents and Holiday Season Sanity

It is getting to be that time again and holidays are around the corner. Do your parents live in another city than you? For many the holiday period is a time when families are spending extended periods of togetherness, which can be both wonderful and challenging. If this is the case, this provides a wonderful opportunity to see how they are managing.

It is hard for many of us as adult children to watch our parent’s health deteriorate. It is hard to see that their current health no longer allows them to remember the names of their grandchildren, or family recipes that they can no longer follow. Be aware of the small things and things that are different. For example, is Mom now finishing Dad’s sentences because she always has or is he now not able to complete the sentence himself?

Here are a few suggestions.

• Don’t interrogate, use your observation and gentle questioning to determine how they are managing,
• Take a drive with them,
• Offer to make a meal with them or take them out for a meal, social awareness or lack thereof may be an indication of a change,
• Start a conversation about the ‘what if’s’-
• Find out what plans they have made should their health suddenly change,
• Do they have a power of attorney in place,
• Is there a list of emergency contact names and numbers on an easy to find location, should there be a need? (I personally like to place the emergency contact list on the refrigerator),
• Take a look in the fridge to check expiry dates on the food or if there are blackened pots in the cupboard,
• Pay attention whether they appear more frail or less stable on their feet,
• Does the house seem unusually unkempt?
• Is Mom, who was always a meticulous dresser now wearing stained clothes?

Part of this journey is acknowledging that your parents may need your assistance but are reluctant to show you or tell you that they need help. Pride and embarrassment can sometimes get in the way. To be sensitive to a parent’s needs, we have to get past our own denial about their health changes and perhaps their own denial as well. Assistance can be offered in many non threatening ways; such as, arranging for snow cleaning service or a house cleaning service or arranging to have a prepared meal delivered.

If you are traveling together, we have found that a little preparation can go along way:

1) Make sure to plan your itinerary with enough time in between events to allow everyone time to relax and re-energize in a quiet space. Try to plan events early in the day for shorter visiting periods to minimize the amount of time spent in large groups and loud places.

2) Always ensure the person carries identification with them should they become lost or disoriented. It may also be beneficial to consider registration in the Safely Home program through the Alzheimer’s Society wandering registry.