The holidays are a popular time for reuniting with siblings and parents. Like me, many sons and daughters no longer live in the same city as their parents, so this may be the first time in months when adult children are seeing their parents. Once together, it's common that health changes in mom or dad are more evident and the topic of aging, and its related issues, becomes a topic of family conversation.
A Place for Mom (APFM), the nation's largest senior living referral service, recently commissioned an online Harris Interactive survey, which found that 43 percent of adult children who will visit their parents or in-laws this holiday season are planning to discuss such issues as health, finances, housing, mobility and memory loss. I found it particularly interesting that the survey also found that men are much more likely to plan on having a conversation with their parents about senior care, health and mobility issues, while women are far more likely to be the ones looking for senior housing.
These findings remind us that the holidays are not only a time of bonding and creating fun memories with loved ones, but also need to be a time to have important family discussions about the future. I suggest three easy ways to make meaningful use of family time while getting organized about long-term care for an aging loved one.
1) Take stock of an aging relative's health and wellness. While visiting parents for the holidays, take some time to evaluate their overall living situation. Observe their eating habits. Look for weight loss or gain. Ask about their health and doctor visits. Check if they have been taking their medications. Look around the house to see if it is reasonably clean and tidy. Answers to these questions can help identify any red flags that identify potential safety, mobility and health issues for aging parents. APFM has developed a Senior Safety & Well-Being Checklist, which is a useful resource that can help families assess the needs of aging relatives.
2) Talk about family traditions and past memories. Families reuniting for the holidays often reminisce about past get-togethers. Going through photo albums, watching home videos and trading family stories is a great way to connect with parents and bring back good memories. Break out the video camera and "interview" your parents on a variety of topics, such as growing up, their young adult years, how they met, favorite holiday traditions, or whatever is of most interest in your family. Spending quality time together this way can also help lead to discussions about how they want to continue to live their life - and potentially, be a way to ease into the "tough conversation" on aging and long term care.
3) Review important financial and legal documents. Often times when families find themselves in a health crisis where they need to quickly make decisions about care for an aging parent, they find themselves wasting precious time searching for important legal and financial documents. Setting aside the time to collect and organize important documents to prepare for a parent's aging and health care is important in planning for long term care. Knowing where to find mom's birth certificate or dad's living will can help families be prepared to select and finance the best type of senior care for their loved ones in the future.
The gift of time has always made for the "perfect gift" for a loved one. Making the time to discuss health and lifestyle wishes related to aging can be one of the most meaningful gifts children and parents can give each other for the holidays.