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Let’s Talk Turkey

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The holiday season is an ideal occasion to check on your older parents’ situation, especially if you don’t see them too often during the rest of the year. Every week over the phone Mom and Dad assure you that all is well, but seeing them face-to-face for the first time since July 4 can be a reality check. Therefore, we have put together a list of 8 potential concerns for you to address whenever the “right time” presents itself during a family gathering. Be sure to keep such concerns as small side dishes, so that worries don’t turn into the overpowering flavor of the season.

1 – Signs that something is not quite right

Holidays are a time of joy… and a time of stress. Be observant, but do not reach conclusions too quickly. Mom could open the door looking disheveled because she was stirring a pan of bubbling caramel just before you arrived. What you are watching out for is noticeable change. How does the parents’ lifestyle compare to last year, or to the year before that? Have they stopped using the second floor all of a sudden? If the house isn’t as neat as it was, you may want to bring up friends, back home, who reluctantly accepted a little extra help with cleaning and were pleasantly surprised with the results.

2 – Is home maintenance falling behind?

There again, Dad’s garage may not be as neat as it was when you were growing up, but that’s beside the point. Watch out for leaky faucets, dead light bulbs, frayed carpeting or rotting floorboards on the front porch. If the conversation lends itself to it, this might be the time to talk about joining the wait list at a retirement community, or at least to offer the services of a reputable local handyman as a Christmas present.

3 – So many medical appointments

Chances are that the calendar on the kitchen wall will tell you all you want to know about your parents’ health. You may want to share with them your own experience of going to several specialists working for a common health care system, and how it helped you stay clear of drug interactions and of a wasteful overlap of tests. In addition, some parents are comfortable talking about end-of-life choices, while others are not. If yours are on the reticent side, go gentle and slow. Start as equals, mentioning how you are considering making your wishes clear to your children.

4 – Nutrition and wellness

Older couples usually stick to a wholesome routine when it comes to nutrition, but surviving spouses are notorious for losing interest in food altogether while mourning and afterwards. Still, we know that most widows and widowers won’t turn up their nose at a food gift arriving through the mail… as long as it isn’t too much food for their need, or quickly perishable.

5 – Isolation, a silent but real threat

Couples and surviving spouses who remain at home during late retirement run the risk of becoming dangerously isolated. This, in turn, can start a vicious cycle of inactivity and depression. When you talk about isolation to your parents, keep it specific. Suggest volunteering or sharing some of the programs in a nearby retirement community. Regular exercise sounds like an ordeal, yet it is indispensable in order to feel fulfilled at the end of the day. If your parents’ neighborhood isn’t as safe as it once was, think of other options, such as a day or two a week in an Adult Day Services program.

6 – A full life… with less driving

Losing one’s driving privileges against one’s will is a traumatic and demeaning experience. Long before this may occur, start thinking of ways Mom or Dad could remain active without driving far any longer. Investigate their county’s transportation services to the aged. If they are tech-savvy (like more and more seniors), introduce them to services that provide rides through apps so that if the dreaded day ever comes when they must retire their keys, they will not feel as handicapped.

7 – Staying clear of scams

Our parents grew up in an age when bandits were more clearly recognizable than they are today. Everyone above 70 needs a regular refresher about the latest scams such as phishing, calls from “grandchildren in trouble,” computer malware, or promises of untold riches that entail sending a money order to strangers. You might want to memorize one or two near-comical stories about scams, and repeat them to your parents to start on the subject. Encourage Mom and Dad to check with you when they are in doubt about an offer’s legitimacy, and bring up the fraudulent phone calls or email you received and recognized as scams.

8 – Financial openness  

This is the biggie in many families. You will want to encourage openness, while not being seen as prying or greedy. If you are comfortable doing so, please bring up subjects such as home-owning costs and estate planning. The main message you wish to convey is your own worry that you may find yourself in a position to make important choices without knowing your parents’ wishes. Parents who are reluctant to open up with their children should at least consult an Elder Attorney (with good feedback from trusted friends), and have a plan to simplify their affairs before it becomes a major hurdle. Grown children should educate themselves too, becoming familiar with Medicare and various senior living options. After all, your parents helped you with your homework 55 years ago. The least you can do is return the favor now.

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