By Janet B. Kurland, LCSW-C, Senior Care Specialist &
Gail Lipsitz, Coordinator, Public Relations
Jewish Community Services
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and your preparations are well under way. This year, your siblings from near and far will be gathering at your home for the holiday dinner. Mom is eagerly awaiting having her adult children, their spouses and the grandchildren all together.
You are concerned because lately you’ve been noticing some changes in Mom. When Dad died six years ago, Mom made it clear she wanted to stay in her house for as long as possible. You are worried that she might fall on the steps. She is still driving, but not going out as much these days. Mom used to be well groomed, but now her clothes aren’t so clean. She’s been mixing up her pills. Some of her bills are getting paid and some are not.
You would like to bring up these concerns and discuss them with your siblings while they will all be here. It’s important for them to be aware. Mom and the family may need to make some major decisions down the road. But is a holiday like Thanksgiving the right time to bring up serious issues like health, independent living, driving, safety and finances?
The answer is both no and yes. The day of the holiday is not a good time for a heavy discussion. First and foremost, when family gathers, you should celebrate the holiday. Have Thanksgiving dinner together and let all the generations enjoy each other. If Mom is able to prepare her famous apple pie, or some other dish she has always made, it will sustain her role as matriarch and carry on a family tradition.
However, there are appropriate times and ways to bring up sensitive matters while the family is together. Here are some suggestions.
- The in-town adult child(ren) can have a discussion with their out-of-town siblings before the holiday, by phone or email. “I am so glad you are coming so we can celebrate and enjoy. While you’re here, I would also like to find private time to talk about some concerns.”
- Gather the immediate adult family members to talk, without young children present. Find a quiet place in the house or go for a walk.
- The adult child(ren) who have concerns can ask the others: “Have you noticed any changes in Mom? I need your help and advice.” This encourages communication and cooperation within the family.
- Once the conversation has been opened up and everyone is aware of the concerns, discuss some options for what can be done after the holiday. A good starting point is for someone to talk with Mom about whether she has any concerns: is she having any difficulties managing on her own? Is she thinking about plans for the future?
- Decide together who is comfortable with bringing the family’s concerns to Mom in a non-threatening way. It could be one of the adult children or another relative, a trusted friend or neighbor, a rabbi or a doctor. Remember that your parent is an adult deserving of respect.
- In order to determine the extent of the changes in Mom, how safe her home is, and what her needs are, you can arrange for a professional Geriatric Care Manager to do a one-time assessment, with Mom’s consent. Care Managers are nurses and social workers who come to the home and meet with the older person and family members. After assessing Mom’s physical, emotional, mental, cognitive, and social health, and her environment, the Care Manager gives the family a report and recommendations that support the elder’s desire to live with maximum independence and dignity.
Getting together for holidays offers an opportunity to do what you can as a caring family to help your older parent live as safely and comfortably as possible for as long as possible. In these discussions, listen to each other, look for points of agreement, and avoid defensiveness and accusations. If there is not agreement among the adult children about the issues, can they at least agree to an objective assessment of the situation, which a Geriatric Care Manager can provide? You can also request a one-session Elder Care Family Consultation with a senior specialist at Jewish Community Services.
We don’t know what next year will bring. Holidays are for reminiscing about good times in the past, for sharing and for making memories. Happy Thanksgiving!
For more information about Eldercare Family Consultation, Geriatric Care Management, and other resources for seniors and their families, contact Jewish Community Services at 410-466-9200 or visit www.jcsbaltimore.org.
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