Chris and I love Thanksgiving! We host a large family gathering at our house each year. We cook far too much food, laugh frequently, and reflect with gratitude on the many blessings in our lives. This week, as our adult children return home and extended family members make the trip north, we are busy making extensive shopping lists and dusting everything in sight!
Often when adult children come home to their aging parents for the holidays, they are surprised to see that mom and dad aren’t keeping up with things like they once did. I reflect on my own experiences with my mother in her last couple of years. My visits home increased in frequency, and I became aware of several warning signs that she needed more help.
- First, there was the kitchen. Clean dishes and storage containers were left out on the counters instead of being put away in cabinets. These items were more comfortable to reach when my mother needed one, but in her small kitchen, it also eliminated counter space for meal preparation.
- This observation reinforced my second conclusion: virtually all of her meals consisted of pre-packaged foods that needed no preparation or just needed to go into the microwave for a few minutes. Her nutritional health was compromised by these convenience choices.
- My third realization was how she was dressing. My mother never tried to be “smartly dressed,” but she always wore clean clothes and was well-groomed. I became concerned the day she asked me if I thought she smelled unpleasant. I had already observed that she frequently wore the same outfit for several days in a row, even when food stains were visible to my eye.
- Then there was the problem of bathing. Taking a bath took considerable effort, so she only bathed a couple of times weekly, even though she had a CAREGiver from Home Instead who could have helped her wash more often.
- Because she worried that she might have body odor, my mom began to only go out socially on the days she took a bath. I noticed this trend as a fifth warning sign. The woman who never missed any church gathering and worked actively in her church until she was well into her 90’s was now more inclined to sit at home on Sunday morning and watch TV church.
If you get to spend time with aging loved ones this Thanksgiving holiday, tune-up your observational skills and notice the little things. Maybe the house isn’t as clean or neat as it used to be, or the yard isn’t well-tended. Perhaps you see stacks of bills, and a few are 2nd notices. The food in the frig doesn’t look too fresh, and there’s not a tasty variety of groceries.
As I observed my mother’s increasing need for more help at home, I was in a position to know what needed doing. I talked with my brother, and together we approached our mother with our concerns. As a united front, we created a plan that gave our mother more help when we couldn’t be there and gave us more peace of mind about her safety and health.
Is it time to talk turkey with your parents and explore whether they may need some extra help with their daily routines? If one of them appears to be in a more significant decline, consider whether caregiving responsibilities could be too much for the other. Assure them that asking for help is a sign of wisdom, not of infirmity. It’s much better to embrace a little help early on than to resist assistance and end up in trouble later on. Here are some great tips to help start the conversation! There’s also a printable booklet if you prefer a hard copy.
Chris and I are thankful for all those family caregivers out in our communities this holiday season, and we pray God’s abundant blessings on this season of your life. We hope you will join the conversation this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about talking turkey with your aging parents or relatives.