Home for the holidays? It may be time to talk elder care

The over-the-river-and-through-the-woods trip to grandmother’s house is prime time to also assess Mom and Dad’s health before a crisis occurs, aging experts say.

Counseling experts are already witnessing a 66% growth in calls this year from adult children seeking advice on complex medical, legal and financial issues involving aging parents, according to a report being released Wednesday by the ComPsych Corporation, an international provider of 13,000 employee-assistance programs. Add to that high volume the 18% increase during November and December, when families gather after long absences.

“A lot of the calls are financially driven and stress driven,” says Richard Chaifetz, chief executive officer for ComPsych. “People will call and say, ‘I think my father needs to go to a nursing home. Can you help us figure out our options and how to broach it with him?’ ”

Those life-changing conversations are rarely an appetizing mix with a celebratory feast. Chaifetz says it’s best to go home prepared to have a good time but to be aware of changes occurring in older parents.

“A lot of people will decide not to say anything to parents when they’re visiting,” says Chaifetz, “but then they’ll go home and start to realize their parents might need help.”

Or there might be a crisis, says Chaifetz, when adult children have to find alternative living arrangements for their parents.

“It can be extremely daunting and overwhelming for people to have to take over decision-making for their parents,” says Chaifetz. “Most people don’t know where to begin. Our experts can help them sort out options and offer support.”

Taking over for parents should be a last resort, says Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, a division of Health and Human Services.

“It’s really best to have early conversations with parents about what they need and want so they can age in place,” says Markwood. “Sometimes what they might need is a ride to the doctor or a home-delivered meal or someone to help with chores. It’s rare that they need full support overnight.”

Wondering how to know if parents might need some help? Here are four questions to ask yourself, says Chaifetz:

•How do they look? If they were previously fashion divas or dapper Dans and their clothes are dirty or do not match, be sure to ask the next three questions.

•Is the home in good order? If the house and property were always photo-ready for Home and Garden and now are messy or have stacks of old newspapers and magazines scattered around, that could signify other problems.

•Are they eating well? If the refrigerator lacks healthy ingredients, they might not be meeting nutritional needs.

•How are their cognitive skills? If there are unpaid bills or expired pill bottles, or if they get lost on routine trips, they might be suffering from depression or dementia.

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For geriatric care management and senior home care assistance in the South Florida areas of Boca Raton, Boyton Beach, Delray Beach, Palm Beach and Miami areas, visit Advocare.

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