Be Your Aging Parents and In-Laws Holiday Gift

Baby Boomers: Be Your Aging Parents’ and In-Laws’ Holiday Gift
Isabel Fawcett, SPHR

As Baby Boomers prepare to visit their aging parents and/or in-laws for the holidays, some may be in for a rude awakening in caregiving. Home care may be looming large on their elderly parents’ horizon. Some boomers don’t see the need for elderly home care until they’re literally scrambling to find home care options for their parents and/or in-laws. “Too late, too late shall be the cry?”

It was bound to happen – or, was it?

In 2011, now less than 2 months away, the first wave of Baby Boomers will hit the magical age of 65. Naturally, boomers’ parents have already transitioned into their senior years. Other parents have died. Some parents are trying to cope with their chronic health conditions, widowhood, a spouse’s or domestic partner’s chronic health issues. Each relationship has its own family and couple’s dynamic.

With aging and health decline, very little is new. Time marches on. Why, then, do some adult children wait until our backs are against the long-distance caregiving wall? Unless you thrive on high stress in your life, avoid procrastination and denial about your parents’ and/or in-laws’ golden years life transitions.

Pre-Travel Eldercare Assessment & Tips for Long-Distance Family Members

If you haven’t seen your parent(s) in more than a year, brace yourself. Prepare by planning ahead and thinking strategically. Ask yourself tough questions.

  • Do my parents have a clean bill of health, or, are there medical conditions I need to know about?
  • Are my parents still able to drive safely? How will I know if they should not be driving?
  • Assuming worst case scenarios in my parents’ health, physical and cognitive abilities, what would it take for my parents to age in place, with dignity?
  • What am I prepared to do to help or lead my parents and/or siblings in our family’s eldercare strategy?

Long-Distance Caregiver Cheerleader Calls Strongly Recommended
If you’ve never made time to engage your parents or in-laws in candid conversations, pave the way with  a couple of scouting-the-caregiving-terrain calls. Let your elders know that you’re looking forward to visiting. Ask whether there are chores or errands you may assist in doing.

If no information is forthcoming, mention examples like cleaning the yard, raking leaves, cleaning or organizing the garage, attic, and/or making or scheduling general home and/or equipment repairs. Anything that would save your parents time, money and/or physical effort should be on the table.

Do they need to stock up on basic supplies? Use the current economy concerns as a springboard for this discussion. Be chauffeur, handyman and executive assistant while visiting. Let them know that you don’t have much money to spend on gifts and decided to make your holiday visit a hands-on gift of caring. When you arrive, wear a Santa or other festive hat. Tie a gorgeous red ribbon around your neck, or arm, as a visual symbol that your assistive service is their holiday gift 2010, with love.

Better to wrap yourself as your parents’ holiday gift than to pull teeth about what you think they need to be doing at this stage to help them transition to assisted living, adult day care services, or, in-home care. Avoid depressing your parents and/or yourself. Be good tidings and cheer.

If this all sounds like it’s too much work, the alternative is more work, possibly heartache, if you ignore your aging parents’ and/or in-laws’ declining health and social need for assistive care support.

Mom, Dad, I’m Home!

Here are a few long-distance caregiver tips to help you make the most of your holiday visit.

  • Park on the street a few blocks away from your parents’ home. Scan the environment. Look for vacant lots and homes for sale. Both tell a story about the local economy, neighborhood, property values, and more. Observe pedestrian and vehicular traffic. How busy, and safe, is the street on which your parents live? Do you feel safe in the community, or not? Noticed any suspicious activities?
  • Park curbside in front of your parents’ home. Take notes describing what you see, from the roof, to the driveway, windows, front door, lighting, paint, etc. If your parents’ car is in the driveway, is there external damage to the car? Is the yard overgrown or littered? By comparison to other homes on the block, how does your parents’ home look? Is it a fixer-upper?
  • Once inside your parents’ home continue sleuthing.
  • Invite your parents to go grocery shopping – on you, if you can afford it. Note their grocery and other selections. Are the purchases balanced, or, mostly convenience and non-nutritional? Back home, are your parents able to safely lift the bagged goods? Are they short of breath?
  • Allow them to drive you to church, stores, or sightseeing. Evaluate driving safety and reflexes.
  • Have “the talk.” “Mom, Dad, I am impressed by everything you accomplish independently. I support your continued independence in living. There are many resources available these days to support us all in sustaining independence in living now that we are all older…meal service delivery, home and health aides, house cleaning services…Even one service would allow you more time to enjoy your lives….”

Be a resourceful caregiver. Your aging parents may benefit from home care.