Adult children get busy with their own lives, and many live quite a distance from their aging parents. If you are a “long-distance child,” the holiday season may present your only chance to detect changes in your parents’ health, their environment and their overall attitude toward life. What should you watch for that could help you decide if you need to suggest to your parents that they get some help?
For years, when I knew my brother and his wife were going to visit our parents, I’d prepare my sibling for how “bad” Mom and Dad were going to look. Our parents both lived with degenerative diseases, and each had a different type of dementia. It seemed to me, their primary caregiver, that they were fading away. My sister saw them nearly once each week, as well, and she agreed with me. We didn’t want our brother to be shocked by their failing health, so we prepared him. Or so we thought.
It turned out that our parents were so pumped up about their son coming to visit, that he’d arrive and see our elders looking really quite good. I then felt foolish for having over prepared my brother in excess for something he just couldn’t see.
As soon as my brother would leave, like a deflated balloon, our parents would sink back to the level where they were before the visit. One year – and this nearly broke my heart – my mother was so excited about the visit she could talk of nothing else. Then, after my brother left, Mom asked which weekend he was coming. She’d totally forgotten the visit had happened.
Still, the aging parent can only keep up this wellness act for a short time. So, if an adult child coming from a distance can stay a few days, he or she does have a chance to get a fresh look at how the parents are doing. Their input can help the caregiver who sees the parents daily, since a primary caregiver may not notice subtle changes.
Also, we who live close to our elders, or who are primary caregivers, tend to do what needs to be done, so it could be that the elders are losing certain abilities and we haven’t noticed. That’s when someone who only sees the elders occasionally can be really helpful.
Do Mom and Dad “Cover” for Each Other?
Long married couples can often finish each other’s sentences. They can help each other read, eat and do other things so common to daily life that no one stops to notice that they are such a team they are “filling in the gaps” for each other. Often, even they don’t know this is happening. When you visit, try to “separate” the team a bit. See if Dad’s hearing is getting worse, but Mom is hearing for him. See if Mom’s balance is bad in the morning, but Dad is getting her breakfast and making sure she is steady before anyone else sees her. In other words, see if it takes a team for them just to hang on.
Teamwork is wonderful, and it’s beautiful to see long-married couples working seamlessly beside each other. However, if there are health issues that need tending to, this teamwork can be detrimental. Getting each of your parents alone will help you identify strong and weak points.
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