Determining that your aging parent or loved one is in need of assistance may be one of the most difficult decisions you will ever make. You may be met with resistance; you may find yourself in a no-win situation. 

Whatever the case, an increasing number of families will face such quandaries this holiday season. For out-of-town visitors, the condition of their elderly relative(s) may come as a shock. For those already intimately involved with caregiving responsibilities, the holidays and the onset of winter can bring about a number of emotional needs of our loved ones that can bring even more challenges.

This year, as we roll into the holidays, be on the lookout for signs that your aging relative may be in need of some assistance. Look especially for signs of change; changes in health, mood and living conditions can all be important indicators. 

In addition, family members should be speaking with the people who see their aging relative(s) on a daily basis to find out if they have noticed any recent changes.

Below, we list some signs of change that may indicate that new decisions may have to be considered. 

• Personal hygiene problems like poor grooming, a sloppy appearance, infrequent bathing

• Home in disarray or needing to be cleaned 

• Weight loss or weight gain (check for spoiled food or insufficient food in the home) 

• Failure to manage medications or medical appointments 

• Increased difficulty with mobility (such as climbing stairs or using a bathtub) 

• Changes in judgment, mood or overall behavior 

• Increased forgetfulness (check for unopened mail or unread newspapers) 

• Missed bill payments or other financial difficulties 

• Unusual or extravagant purchases that are out of character 

• Decreased social activities or failing to maintain friendships

• Struggles with basic tasks such as eating, dressing, walking, cooking, managing medications

• Not maintaining outside friendships or interests

• Erratic attitude, paranoia, refusing to communicate, abusing alcohol or drugs

• Suffering from consistent memory lapses, confusion, loss of reasoning skills, difficulty answering questions, gets lost walking or driving, inability to find the right word

• Signs of physical illness, such as black and blue marks, bed wetting, dehydration, problems swallowing

Failure to do anything when you notice these conditions will create even greater difficulties down the road. 

When making decisions about getting assistance for a loved one, don’t be tempted to take on all the responsibility yourself. It is important to understand that caregivers need care, too. The idea that taking on the responsibility for an ailing or aging parent means that the caregiving adult child does everything by themselves, while simultaneously continuing to meet the demands of their own lives and families, is simply unrealistic.  

In our busy world, caregiving is already a complicated task, but when multiple family members are involved, the complexities can lead to confusion, frustration and miscommunication. Who will take responsibility for what tasks? Often the majority of the work is delegated to the family member who has the most available time. Caregivers placed in this position harbor resentment which leads to the demise of family relationships, the most important support system the loved one so desperately needs. 

In this situation, a compromise is usually the best course of action for the loved one and the entire family. 

The primary caregiver may feel unappreciated or victimized because other family members feel he or she is not providing the best care. While neither side may want to be seen as “giving in,” it may be in the best interests of the loved one to compromise. 

Outside evaluations from physicians or case or care managers may also prove helpful in deciding on the best course of action. Many loved ones would prefer to remain at home if the cost of care is not prohibitive or if the care necessity does not exceed what can be provided. 

Many times, a trained personal care provider can provide the majority of care when skilled nursing is not needed. Families should know that there are many options available for assistance. These include in-home care, day care, family counseling and other services.  

The best course of action is to have a game plan. The family needs to sit down and assess their loved one’s needs and evaluate if they have the skill sets within the family unit to care for their loved one, or if they need to seek outside assistance. Decisions involving care for a loved one should not be hurried or rushed. The family should take their time and weigh all the options available to them.

So, this holiday season, take inventory with your loved ones, especially those loved ones who are sitting around the holiday dinner table. 

Take note of some of the signs that I have outlined for you above. If you recognize any of these signs, then this is a good the time to begin having the conversation about “making the decision” to provide them with some caregiving assistance. JN

Bob Roth is the managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions.

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