Planning to ‘have the talk’ with senior parents this holiday season? How to begin

(BPT) – As your family gathers this holiday season to enjoy each other’s company, share a traditional meal and take in your favorite sports event or parade, will you also have more serious discussions about the safety and well-being of aging parents? If so, you’re not alone; more than a quarter of families will talk about medical and health issues of the seniors in the family, and 12 percent will discuss housing, according to a survey by A Place for Mom, North America’s largest senior living referral service.

Those holiday conversations can help families create a smoother transition for seniors whose housing needs have changed, says former “Good Morning America” host Joan Lunden. In 2006, Lunden became the primary caregiver for her mother, who was experiencing the onset of dementia.

“As the sandwich generation grows, more people are finding themselves caring for both their minor children and their aging parents,” Lunden says. “Many of them will need to make important decisions about where – and with whom – parents will live when they’re no longer able to remain on their own. I know from experience that such conversations about living arrangements can be emotionally charged for everyone involved, both parents and the children who have become caregivers.”

Family members who may not see each other much throughout the rest of the year may notice changes in their parents when everyone is together during the holidays. Many will take the opportunity to at least begin care discussions. In fact, the senior living advisors of A Place for Mom, which provides families with assistance in finding senior living solutions, usually see a spike in inquiries during and immediately after the holidays, says Jennifer Mellet, chief senior living advisor for the organization.

“The holidays present an opportunity for everyone to see firsthand how Mom and Dad are doing, assess how much help they may need and at least begin a dialogue on how to best meet their changing needs,” Mellet says.

Mellet offers some guidance for families who will be discussing senior care decisions this holiday season:

* Start educating yourself on the topic of senior living. There are many options available today to meet someone’s need, including living independently with a little help, to full-time care. A comprehensive downloadable Caregiver Toolkit is available from A Place for Mom, which includes information guides, senior living descriptions, worksheets, check lists and an online senior care calculator to help families estimate costs.

* During holiday gatherings, watch for signs that parents may need assistance such as weight loss or gain, a house that’s untidy, a lack of food in the refrigerator or pantry, mail that’s stacking up unopened or overdue notices for bills, and obvious signs of short-term memory loss.

* Make a list of topics to discuss, such as the location of important documents (marriage licenses, birth certificates, military separation papers, medical records, financial documents, etc.); financial obligations and abilities of both parents and caregivers; living preferences and options; and caregiver roles.

* Be gentle but clear in conversations about your concerns. State your observations concisely and kindly. Remind your family member that your concern stems from love. Help your loved one to feel as much in control as possible and keep in mind that they should be involved in decisions about their own care. Focus on treating your loved ones as you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.

* Realize that a single conversation during the holidays isn’t likely to resolve all concerns. Allow your family time to enjoy the holidays and end the conversation with a definitive plan for the next step.

For many families, the next step will include aid from a senior living advisor, who can provide them with the guidance and insight they need to make informed decisions about senior living. A Place for Mom connects families with knowledgeable advisors who can help them find the living arrangements that best fit the senior’s needs, objectives and financial parameters. In addition to personalized consultation, the organization also offers useful guidance, tools and advice on its website. Visit www.aplaceformom.com to learn more or to find a local advisor.

Age-related changes in mobility and health can make it necessary for families to change the living arrangements of older parents – and that can be stressful for everyone involved,” Lunden says. “The holidays can be a comforting time for families to begin having important conversations about how they can ensure seniors are well-cared-for and stay safe.”

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