Holidays Make Aging Issues Apparent

family holiday meal with elderly parent

I used to look forward to the Holidays a bit more than I do now. When I was a kid everyone came over to our house because both my mother and father loved to cook and they could really whip up a meal.

Mom loved to bake; cakes, cookies, sweet potato casserole, you name it. But Dad was the real “meat” guy. It didn’t matter if he roasted, grilled, or seared, the food always came out tasting amazing. All of my friends would be so excited to see what toys they’d end up with, but I was always excited to see what fabulous display of culinary gifts would be created for our holiday pleasure.

My mother’s older brother, Uncle Tommy, couldn’t cook a thing, but he played a mean guitar. He’d sit right on the floor and pick away while my brother and sister and I would try to harmonize. We were just awful I’m sure, but we’d sing until our throats were raw, with the smells of the kitchen wafting under our noses. Our home was always bustling, loud, and sometimes even a bit raucous on the holidays – I sure do miss it.

We kept up the festivities despite the fact that my brother moved across the country. Even after he was married and with children of his own, he always made it home for the holidays. My sister, are real globe-trotter, could only stand to live in one place for a few years before she’d get the itch. Although she would make it back a few years when she first left the nest, it was hard to get her to commit to visiting the older she got. Since I just moved a few hours away, coming home on the holidays was always a joy for me. When I got married to my high school sweetheart and we had children, we’d pack them all up and bring them to mom and dads a few days before so they could all spend quality time together.

As my parents began to age I started to take on more of the kitchen duties. Even though I spent so much time with them while they cooked I had never really mastered cooking much beyond the standard fare. A turkey in my hands was just as likely to taste like cardboard than it did poultry. But I did my best to help out as the years went by. Uncle Tommy, our biggest source of musical entertainment and knock-knock jokes, began having memory issues so he ended up moving a few states over to be closer to his children. He hasn’t come to dinner for quite a few years now.

Year before last things really began to change. Dad had a major stroke and had to go into a Skilled Nursing Facility. It’s a nice place, but he can’t come home, even to visit. Mom misses him terribly and the house seems a bit big for her. This year I wanted to surprise her so I finally convinced my sister to come back home for a holiday meal, it just meant the world to my mom. My brother flew out with his wife, his kids were still away at college, and my husband and one of our children were also able to come. I decided to cook the meal and leave mom free to visit with everyone, it was just getting too difficult for her to manage it.

During the meal prep I could tell things with mom were changing. She was having a difficult time with her stairs, and her bedroom is up there. She told me that sometimes she just stayed on the couch if she felt she couldn’t make it. It’s an older home so there aren’t bathrooms downstairs, she was heavily relying on adult diapers to keep herself from making a mess. When my brother saw how much weight she’d lost he started surveying her refrigerator. There wasn’t much there and what was there really needed throwing out. We worked together to get a shopping list together and to clean out the ruined food.

My sister had been away so long I thought she wasn’t going to recognize mom. It turns out that mom could barely recognize her. Although she would get excited to hear her name, my sister’s aged face was just a bit out of place to mom. I thought my poor sister was going to completely come apart, she’d realized a bit too late that she’d been gone a bit too long. Sometimes that just happens in families.

But our family’s experience isn’t much different from many families that have aging parents. It’s important that when loved ones come together to celebrate during the holidays to take the time to make sure an aging parent’s needs are being met and to try to actively look for signs of changes. Here are a few signs to look out for:

  • Weight Loss
  • Spoiled or expired food in the refrigerator or cabinets
  • Mobility issues; trouble standing, walking, climbing stairs
  • Cleanliness in the home
  • Personal hygiene
  • Things in odd places (like a remote in the refrigerator)
  • Bruises, scratches, or wounds that don’t heal
  • Loss of interest (eating, activities, conversations)
  • Pets aren’t being cared for

Even if none of these signs exist, try take the time to survey the house to ensure that is remains a safe environment for an aging parent. Here are a few things to check:

  • Floors aren’t too slick, especially hard floors like tile
  • Throw rugs stay in place and the corners don’t present a tripping hazard
  • Floors are clear of items (shoes, household items, pet toys)
  • There is a clear path to all necessary areas of the house
  • If grab bars are needed in showers or tubs
  • Tub and showers aren’t too slick, have safety tread
  • Stairs can be safely climbed
  • Bathroom toilets are easily accessible and high enough to easily use

If you’re not sure whether the home presents issues you can always check with an in-home agency. Many of them will come to your home for an assessment and make recommendations to help you know what changes will need to be made.

Finally, if you determine that your parent’s home is no longer a good option, take the time with other decision makers to plot out a good path forward so you have the support you need to help your parent transition into an environment that is the best fit for their needs.

Happy Holidays!

Celebrating the Holidays in Assisted Living
How Palliative Care Saved My Grandmother

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