Adult children who spent time over the holidays with their aging parents may in some cases have returned home haunted by agonizing questions.
Are their parents experiencing health problems?
Are they still mentally on top of things?
Is it time to start thinking about long-term care?
“The holidays and their aftermath are the busiest time of year for long-term care admissions,” says Chris Orestis, president of Retirement Genius and an authority on retirement planning, long-term care, and financial health.
“Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, families got together and many were seeing Mom or Dad for the first time in months. Some discovered that their parent’s health has declined, and he or she should not be left to live on their own any longer.”
If you are concerned about aging parents, Orestis offers a few observations you may have had during that holiday visit that are worth following up on:
Physical deterioration. Was there any evidence of significant weight loss, balance issues and falling, and loss of strength and stamina?
“You might also have seen loss in what is known as ADL — activities of daily living,” Orestis says. “That includes such things as the ability to dress, eat, shower, or use the toilet independently.”
Mental deterioration. It’s easy and tempting to blow off loss of memory or confusion about names, dates, and locations as just a “senior moment,” Orestis says.
“But cognitive deterioration is an important warning sign that you should be on the lookout for dementia and Alzheimer’s,” he says. “These conditions can worsen quickly and can lead to many physical breakdowns and safety issues.”
Lifestyle deterioration. Maybe your parent was one of those sticklers for the adage “a place for everything and everything in its place,” but now the home isn’t kept so neatly.
“You may even have encountered things that were oddly out of place, such as a houseplant in the refrigerator or pots and pans in the bathtub,” Orestis says.
“Even more concerning, you might have seen signs of physical damage because they crashed the car into a fence or the wall of the garage, or there were burn marks on the kitchen wall from a flash fire.
“It’s important to remember that long-term care is not only a matter of healthcare, but also a matter of safety.”
Certainly, seniors want to remain independent as long as possible, and they don’t want to become a burden on their family, either physically or financially, Orestis says.
As a result, they may try to avoid discussions about their health, mental capabilities, and the possibility of the need for assistance. Family members may be inclined to avoid these conversations as well.
“For some people, the need for long-term care can be brought on from a sudden event, such as a fall, stroke, advancing dementia, or other health-related malady,” he says.
“For others, it can slowly creep up over time, and without realizing it, one or more loved ones have become caregivers. Confronting the fact that a person has transitioned in life from being independent to dependent in one way or another is difficult.”
But eventually, if it becomes clear professional long-term care is needed, family members should discuss a plan for making that happen. After that, the conversation should take place with the loved one in question, who may be apprehensive or even resistant, Orestis says.
“That conversation should be handled with compassion and delicacy,” he says. “Emphasize that not only will this move improve their health and safety, but there will be numerous opportunities for social activities, games, art, entertainment, and great food.
“The key is for the family to come together. Look for the signs that care is needed, formulate a plan, communicate effectively with your loved ones, and change the perspective about long-term care from a negative to a safe, healthy, and enriching experience in the continuing journey of life.”
Chris Orestis, CSA, is president of Retirement Genius (retirementgenius.com) and is a nationally recognized financial, health/long-term care, and retirement issues expert. Orestis is author of Help on the Way, A Survival Guide to Aging, and Retire Like a Genius. He has over 25 years’ experience in the insurance and long-term care industries.