Sometimes, there’s just no substitute for a face to face visit. Adult children may be getting a wake-up call this season when you visit aging parents. Little things you can’t learn in a phone call can come to light.
Their health may be a concern because you see visible changes on your visit, such as weight loss or the appearance of neglect. Their cognitive skills may be a worry because you notice that they are having trouble tracking the conversation. Or the memory loss you chalked up to “just getting old” is now a significant problem. Sometimes, they just look frail.
What to do?
My colleague who markets for a large assisted living facility says inquiries and visits to see the place are way up at this time of year. No wonder. Adult children who live out of their parents’ area want to know what to do if there is a “next step” needed. That makes sense. The problem with that is, you’ll likely face parental resistance. They don’t like change and especially don’t like the idea of giving up the family home. Approaching the subject requires finesse and respect. Get professional advice if this entire area overwhelms you. If you plan what to say and when to say it, you will do better than moving ahead without thinking too much about it.
A visit to your parents during this time of year is an opportunity. If you don’t see them every day, use the visit as a reason to take stock. Take your cues from what you see to take action. Here are five essentials you need to know.
1. Do they have legal documents, such as a durable power of attorney for finances, and a health care directive (“living will’?). If they dont’ have them, perhaps you can help get them going. One can prepare them without an attorney if you are comfortable with this, and the documents themselves are free. One day, you may be very glad you did get these in order . If your parents do have them, learn where they are stored. It can help to get a copy for yourself, especially if you are named as the “agent” on one or both of these documents.
2. Are there any plans for managing at home with help if they need it? If grocery shopping, cooking, or bathing is getting difficult, it’s time to consider who could help and how to arrange for help at home. How to finance the help must be discussed.
3. If you are worried about their isolation being at home without help and without social contacts check out suitable alternative living situations. Do your research and visit a few prospects. It may get the conversation going about necessary change.
4. If paying bills on time and keeping track of finances is an issue, find out if your parent is willing to accept your help with managing the money. Offer to take over the responsibility. Perhaps you can get your parent’s permission to open an online account and automate the bill paying task with your oversight or help.
5. Learn what to do if a health emergency arises. You’ll need to keep a record of your parents doctors, medications, diagnoses, and day to day health management. This can save you from panic when the time comes. It’s just about inevitable with aging parents that some health crisis is going to come up sooner or later. And this is where the discussion needs to happen about end of life wishes. Prepare yourself by being sure of what your parents want with the legal document (#1, above) you will need.
Holidays can be so busy, it may be easier to just overlook any danger signs you see with aging parents. Here’s hoping you won’t overlook anything. Take a deep breath, prepare yourself to face these responsibilities and lead the way. As your parents continue to age, you will feel much greater confidence when you are prepared. And as I tell my husband, the work of being prepared good modeling for our own kids. I want them to have it easy and know just what to do when it’s our turn to be the aging and maybe frail parents. According to our 20-something kids, we’re already the aging parents!
Until next time,