The holidays are a special time to gather with family. Did you know that holiday get-togethers also offer an opportunity to observe whether a family member may be in need of help in the home? While enjoying the time spent with older relatives, you may be able to assess first-hand whether they are having increased difficulties in their daily lives. Families can be on the lookout for signs that their loved ones may need more assistance to remain safe and independent in their homes.
Warning signs to look for include declining personal hygiene, changes in housekeeping, sleeping or eating habits, unopened mail or unpaid bills, memory loss or signs of depression. Other indications might include sudden weight loss or gain, wearing the same clothes, or exhibiting other unusual physical or behavioral changes.
Planning ahead is important because most people will say, “I want to stay in my own home.” The good news is that, for many people, this is possible with the understanding of available services and advance planning. The place to start is by having those uncomfortable conversations before a crisis knocks on your door.
You’ll need to take a soft approach in discussing these sensitive topics since sharing your observations may not be well received at first. Your elders are feeling that their world is narrowing as well as the reversal of roles in your relationship with them. You may find that family members hide many of their problems because they fear what is happening and the potential loss of their decision making and independence.
It can be difficult to talk about home care with older adults who are convinced that they don’t need any help. The best way to start is by acknowledging their desire to remain in their home. You can then suggest that a little extra help could keep them safe and independent at home. Some of the things they may need help with include personal care, homemaking, preparing meals, grocery shopping, getting around at home and in town, activities with friends, and safety at home.
Think about what kinds of help would be useful and familiarize yourself with available local resources, Adincluding Meals on Wheels, home health care agencies like Visiting Nurse Home Care and Hospice (VNHCH) in North Conway, transportation options, community caregiver programs, support groups and senior centers. Offer to do a quick assessment of their home for fall risks to see what simple things you could do to make it safer for everyone.
Discuss whether they have completed advance directives, healthcare and financial powers of attorney, and their vision for this phase of their lives. For more information, visit the Advance Care Planning section under Services on the VNHCH website at www.VNHCH.org. Be sure that you know where their important documents are kept including life insurance policies, investment and banking information, health and prescription drug coverage, long term care insurance, and titles/deeds to property and personal possessions.
If possible, offer to accompany your family members to their next medical appointment. You can be an advocate by sending a written summary of your observations and concerns to the provider prior to the office visit, and call the office in advance to let them know the letter is coming. In this way, you involve their healthcare provider in the discussion of how best to meet their current needs.
Enjoy the holidays and the warmth of sharing with family and friends. Use the opportunity to truly see what the “gifts” of time and caring can do for those you love.
For more information about services offered by VNHCH please visit the website at VNHCH.org or call 603-356-7006 or 800-499-4171. VNHCH is located at 1529 White Mountain Hwy in North Conway. Passionate people. Compassionate care.