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December 11, 2012

Planning for Senior Care During the Holidays

Sometimes, the changing patterns of a loved one's behavior are barely noticable, until , in one moment,they are all you can see. For me, it was during the holidays, when my dad wandered away from a family gathering and emerged hours later, disheveled and upset.

"Where were you?" my mother asked, aghast at dad's unexplained disappearance.

"I went to pick up my dry cleaning," he said, empty-handed and on foot. It was then that my family put together a worrisome pattern of missed appointments, driving difficulties and memory lapses -- the early signs of dementia.

For my friend Maggie, there was no pattern of behaviors pointing in an ominous direction -- just a phone call.

"My husband and I were having a fight over something stupid," she explains. "I was so pissed off I almost didn't hear the phone ring. When Mom told me about her diagnosis, pancreatic cancer, I couldn't speak. All the problems that were swirling around in my head suddenly seemed inconsequential. My world caved in on me and I didn't know where to turn."

Though our circumstances differed, Maggie and I both found ourselves in a role we were not quite ready for -- how to develop a care plan that's best for our families' needs. As I talked about in my previous post on how to spot warning signs related to your parents' well-being, these challenges often spike around the holidays when adult children visit their aging parents and are confronted with a new normal.

Something has changed -- mom is more frail, dad more forgetful -- and the caregiver torch gets passed from one generation to the next. If you find yourself in this role, you don't have to go it alone. Consider the following pointers to plan ahead and ease the journey:

Do Your Research

If you're out of town, who might check in on Mom or Dad in a storm or after a treatment? Who might be able to bring a nice meal over from time to time? Think about building a network of neighborly resources. Not available? Learn about the local senior center and home care agencies where your parent might enjoy a class, access transportation or find companionship. And consider identifying these resources now before a care crisis erupts, just in case you need more support at a later time.

Form a Team

If you have siblings, air your concerns before discussing them with your parents. The annual holiday dinner, when everyone is gathered together, is not the best time to broach the topic. Instead, come up with a plan to hold a family meeting. Agree to communicate as a unified front and hear each other's perspectives with an open mind; letting conflicts simmer at the surface will only derail your efforts.

To read more of this post from Jody Gastfriend, LICSW, read her blog at


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