November 20, 2008
Editor’s note: MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Eldercare Services, is coordinated by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ; it brings together professionals and lay leaders from MetroWest agencies that provide services to older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency presents a column on an eldercare issue; this month’s column is presented by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest. JFS is a comprehensive social service agency providing a full range of mental health support services on a nonsectarian basis to individuals of all ages and circumstances living in the MetroWest community.
Holiday gatherings are a time when family members reconnect. If it has been awhile since adult children have seen their aging parent, they may be surprised by the changes. Unopened bills strewn across the dining room table or dirty dishes piled up in the sink. Mom seems absentminded and Dad is moody. Clearly help is needed, but what should you do?
First of all, don’t panic. The holidays are a good time for family members to observe changes in older relatives and begin a conversation on the type of assistance they may need. Discussing plans for the future with aging parents is not easy. You may feel strange having this sudden reversal of roles, or you may feel like you’re meddling in your parent’s life. However, as your parent’s potential caregiver, it’s up to you to ask questions regarding their medical, financial, and housing plans and arrangements. Keep in mind that it is easier to have made plans before a crisis — such as a fall or an illness — occurs. Taking action ahead of time will help you avoid scrambling for a solution after the fact. There can be a lengthy application process for long-term-care insurance or waiting lists for some senior communities.
Signs to look for:
- Changes in personal hygiene
- Home in disarray or in need of cleaning
- Changes in weight (check the refrigerator and pantry)
- Failure to manage medications or keep medical appointments
- Increased difficulty with mobility
- Changes in judgment, mood, or overall behavior
- Increased forgetfulness
- Missed bill payments or other financial difficulties
- Decreased social activity
Another difficult aspect of coping with aging parents is dealing with siblings, other family members, or well-meaning friends. Everybody has an opinion or an agenda. Encourage everyone in your family to listen to each other, respond with respect, keep a sense of humor, and stay focused on the goal: providing your parents with the best quality of life.
Helpful tips for a smooth conversation:
- Show genuine interest, concern, and sensitivity.
- Be supportive and empathic, not judgmental.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Be prepared to accept your parent’s viewpoint, even if you disagree.
- Share your thoughts and feeling with your parent.
- Be prepared to have several conversations with your parents and siblings.
A good place to begin is by identifying resources for your parents. Services available to help them include home-delivered meals, adult day care, home health aides, in-home physical and occupational therapies, home modification, eldercare attorneys, transportation, volunteers, medical-alert systems, and senior housing, which includes independent living, assisted living, and nursing home care.
It can be helpful to meet with a professional who is experienced in working with older adults. At Jewish Family Service we often consult with adult children about resources and options available in the community. JFS also offers comprehensive geriatric assessments and care management. For adult children with parents living in other communities, we will make a referral to the appropriate agency.
Remember that help is out there, throughout the holidays and year-round. If your parents’ future is on your mind, chances are your parents are thinking about it as well. Let them know they are not alone with their concerns.
Families and caregivers needing answers to broader eldercare questions and help with community resources can contact Elderlink, a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families, at 973-765-9050, ext. 511, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Schechter, LCSW, is the clinical supervisor for Eldercare Services at Jewish Family Service of MetroWest.