(Editor's note: This week we debut a new monthly column by longtime San Diego journalist Marsha Kay Seff offering advice to baby boomer generation readers who have aging parents.)
By Marsha Kay Seff, The Caretakers' Journey
While opening presents this holiday season, you might be in for a disquieting surprise. Because you can’t return it, you must begin to accept the fact that your beloved parents are slipping.
Like most of us adult children, you probably were counting on them remaining healthy forever. Well, a few lucky ones do, but most don’t. And they’ll be depending on you, even if they proclaim they’re not, to look out for them as they once did for you.
Welcome to the ups and downs of caregiving. The good news is that you’re not alone. About one in four adult children — and climbing — is a caregiver to some extent. So you will find lots of comfort and support from others who have received the same present in past years and have begun figuring out ways to care for it, nurture it and continue to enjoy it despite the inevitable ups and downs.
If you’re wondering why you didn’t realize your parents were beginning to have problems until holiday time, don’t be too hard on yourself. You cannot easily sense problems during telephone calls and short visits and your parents probably were going to great lengths to hide the fact that both their memories and health were slipping.
So holidays are a common time for adult children to find out what’s really going on. Being together with you now for an extended time has made it impossible for them to continue to keep their secrets and for you to continue to ignore the little tell-tale signs that something is wrong.
But don’t panic. With a little planning, you can offer them the priceless gift of your understanding and willingness to pitch in. Sometimes, just a little intervention and help from you or a professional are enough to ensure their independence and accustomed lifestyle for years more.
So while you’re partying, look out for red flags that signal it might be time to step in:
• The house is in disarray and there is spoiled food in the fridge.
• The mail has piled up and bills have gone unpaid.
• Your mom has worn the same dress or your dad the same shirt for days.
• Your parents have been ignoring longtime friends and activities.
• The medicine cabinet is full of expired prescriptions.
• Your mom or dad keeps repeating stories, but can’t recall what they did this morning.
• Your parent is calling family by the wrong names. (Well, we’ve all been there; this, in itself, isn’t cause for too much alarm.)
• Your mom has forgotten old family recipes.
• Mom forgot to cook the turkey and it’s still frozen.
The point is that recognizing the problem is a good start. You might offer to help their pay bills, set up medical appointments and act as the designated driver, or hire a maid or professional caregiver.
Just don’t let the realization that things are changing interfere with your holiday fun and traditions. This is a great time to make as many new memories as you can.
Sponsored by Right at Home in-home care & assistance,
, 619-200-2110, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Marsha Kay Seff at email@example.com.