Lifestyle & Retirement / Senior Living

Holiday visits can be an ideal time to discuss elder care

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The over-the-river-and-through-the-woods trip to grandmother's house also is prime time to assess Mom and Dad's health before a crisis occurs, aging experts say.

Counseling experts already are witnessing a 66% growth in calls this year from adult children seeking advice on complex medical, legal and financial quesions involving aging parents, according to a report Wednesday by the ComPsych Corp., an international provider of 13,000 employee-assistance programs. Add to that high volume the 18% increase during November and December, when families gather after long absences.

“A lot of the calls are financially driven and stress-driven,” says Richard Chaifetz, chief executive officer for ComPsych. “People will call and say, 'I think my father needs to go to a nursing home. Can you help us figure out our options and how to broach it with him?'”

Those life-changing conversations are rarely an appetizing mix with a celebratory feast. Chaifetz says it's best to go home prepared to have a good time but to be aware of changes occurring in older parents.

“A lot of people will decide not to say anything to parents when they're visiting,” Chaifetz says, “but then they'll go home and start to realize their parents might need help.”

Or there might be a emergency, Chaifetz says, after which adult children may have to find alternative living arrangements for their parents.

“It can be extremely daunting and overwhelming for people to have to take over decision-making for their parents,” says Chaifetz. “Most people don't know where to begin. Our experts can help them sort out options and offer support.”

Taking over for parents should be a last resort, says Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

“It's really best to have early conversations with parents about what they need and want so they can age in place,” Markwood says. “Sometimes what they might need is a ride to the doctor or a home-delivered meal or someone to help with chores. It's rare that they need full support overnight.”

Markwood suggests leaning on your parents' neighbors if you don't live nearby.

“Make sure they have your phone number in case they need to call you,” she says. “There are ways to find support for parents that are respectful to what Mom and Dad want. It's important to allow people to have dignity over a life span.”

The website, a public service of the Administration on Aging, lists resources that help the elderly remain at home, she says, rather than having to go to an assisted-living facility or nursing home.

When to offer a helping hand

Wondering how to know if parents might need some help? Here are four questions to ask yourself, Chaifetz says:

How do they look? If they used to be fashion divas or dapper Dans and now their clothes are dirty or do not match, be sure to ask the next three questions.

Is the home in good order? If the house and property were always photo-ready for Home and Garden and now are messy or have stacks of old newspapers and magazines scattered around, that could signify other problems.

Are they eating well? If the refrigerator lacks healthy ingredients, your parents might not be meeting nutritional needs.

How are their cognitive skills? If there are unpaid bills or expired pill bottles, or if parents get lost on routine trips, they might have depression or dementia.

(c) USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. 

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