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The great actress Bette Davis once said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”
This sentiment rings true for both those getting older and for the children or friends who love them. There comes a time when children swap roles with their parents, and for many this can be extremely stressful.
The switch from child to caregiver can be prompted by many reasons. Those that are growing older can experience many physical and mental problems that may need intervention by loved ones. There are subtle changes such as neglecting grooming or household chores, as well as dramatic changes that can threaten the safety of the older person and others. These can range from burning food to allowing strangers into the house. It is ideal when the children visit the parents regularly to check on their well-being. However, if you and your parents are not geographically close, this month’s Thanksgiving holiday can prove to be a great time to check in.
Although most families stay in touch via email or telephone, for many, the holidays are the only time of year they will actually see and spend time with their family members. And some adult children will be surprised to see differences in their parent’s behavior. These could be big or small changes that might signal a decline in the health or mental capabilities of your loved one. Nancy Wilson, assistant director and certified care manager at Elder Options in Placerville knows this quite well. “Things can be good over the phone,” Wilson explains, “but seeing them in person, not.”
The holidays, too, might serve as the perfect opportunity to bring up the discussion about future needs for aging parents. It is a great time to look deeper into their lives and see what’s going on. There are several things to look for in their home and behavior. Jerry Schreck, president of Elder Care based in Roseville advises adult children to look at everything. “If your parent is still driving,” Schreck says, “go for a drive and let them take the wheel.” He also encourages to check if they are properly taking their medications.
It is imperative for adult children to remember how their parents might be feeling and make the discussion non-threatening. “The question to start out with is, ‘How can I help you?’” Wilson shares. Then, the parent doesn’t get defensive and children don’t feel they are hurting their loved one’s feelings.
After you determine that your family member might need some type of assistance, it is best to bring in a neutral third party to help make decisions. “Some older people don’t listen to a loved one, but a stranger can get them the help they need,” Schreck says. By letting a certified professional geriatric care manager help your family, you are not perceived as going against your loved one. “It takes the kids from the bossy role to the role of support member,” Wilson says.
Stuart Greenbaum, vice president of Eskaton – a northern California non-profit community living and home-based provider – advises families to read brochures and research Web sites before visiting a facility. “To make a well-informed choice, it is best to tour the community and visit with current residents,” Greenbaum says.