Did you know that November is National Family Caregiver month? Did you know that there’s a theme to the month? The theme this year is, “Respite: Care for Caregivers”.

Holidays a good time to check in on seniors

Family care coach and advocate Jane Wolf Waterman spoke with me about how visiting senior relatives over the holidays is a chance to check in and see how they are doing mentally, physically and emotionally. Waterman founded a nationwide advocacy group called “Parenting Our Parents” or POP, and wrote a book about her experience in caring for her parents. Waterman feels that the skills learned from parenting your children can help you in providing care, or parenting, your parents.

While you’re checking on your parents and evaluating how they’re doing, keep in mind it’s a conversation and observation, not a lecture series. Children need to recognize that no parent wants their children to take over their lives.

Five signals to watch for

Waterman names 5 signals to watch for when visiting elderly parents.
1. Look for signs of disorientation.
Are your parents dressed strangely? Are they wearing the same clothes every day? Do they not want you in the house? Do they seem surprised by your visit? You’re looking for signs of disorientation or cognitive decline.

2. Look for signs of depression.
Is there living space dark and gloomy? Are the rooms cluttered? What’s your sense of their mental outlook?

3. Do they need help living independently?
How well are they managing the activities of daily living (ADLs)? Caring.com defines ADLs as: feeding, toileting, selecting proper attire, grooming, maintaining continence, putting on clothes, bathing, and walking and transferring (such as moving from bed to wheelchair).
Caring.com also lists the instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), which are the complex skills needed to successfully live independently. They include: managing finances, handling transportation (driving or navigating public transit), shopping, preparing meals, using the telephone and other communication devices, managing medications, housework and basic home maintenance.

4. Look for changes in behaviors.
Do they get disoriented after dark? Are their sleeping patterns changing? Do they seem defensive or experience mood changes? Waterman suggests visiting at different times of day so they can’t prepare for your visit.

5. Reflect on what you’ve been seeing, thinking and feeling.
Talk to friends and family about their thoughts on how your parents are doing. Develop a plan to get the information you need to help your parents. Get your parents to recognize that you’re trying to help them, and not trying to take things away from them.

Get involved in your parents’ lives

Her other ideas include: getting your parents’ consent to be part of their doctor appointments, meeting with financial services professionals and lawyers to better know what’s going on with your parents’ health and finances. If they’re aging in place, find ways to make it easier for them to stay independent, whether it’s a geriatric care manager, domestic help, help with shopping, or programs like meals on wheels.

Waterman’s main message is one of involvement in our parents’ lives. She thinks children should look toward finding ways to bring back the joy to life if it’s missing from their parents’ lives. People don’t view raising their children as a sacrifice. We need to get to that point with our parents, too.

How would you react to your children checking up on you when they visit over the holidays?

Follow me on Twitter: @drdonsays.