Haims column: Emotionally costly — shelving the warning signs
I am a hypocrite. I know it, and as I age, I find myself laughing at myself. When I was just a li’l tot, I used to hate hearing my family and parent’s friends say, “Wow, have you grown. I remember you when you were this small.” Often, I’d roll my eyes and shortly after receive a scolding (a slap on the back of my head) from my folks. They’d say, “That was very rude.” Whatever. I’d think to myself, “Geez, I remember when you didn’t have so many wrinkles and a cane.”
Yes, I was a smart aleck. That I have devoted my life and career to these people I mocked is truly ironic.
The holidays are around the corner, and many families may have the opportunity to see each other after what may have been a long hiatus. Sometimes, it may be surprising to see how much people have changed. Nieces and nephews may have started talking and walking, some kids may be entering high school and college, and mom and dad……well, they may be getting older.
Don’t overlook details
Not seeing your parents for a while can bring the passage of time in focus. While seeing parents use a walker or cane is an overt sign of the need for assistance, small changes may be harder to notice — sometimes even overlooked.
While visiting my mom a few months back, I noticed that there were more than 300 messages on her phone email. I found that a bit strange. I didn’t know she had so many friends nor was she so popular. Upon further looking, I found that most were sales ads and solicitations from websites she had visited.
Why was she not clearing these? She knows how. She must have been doing it, otherwise there would be substantially more messages than the few hundred I had seen. Hmm, strange.
My mom had been a teacher, business owner and accountant. She’s always been pretty organized and maintained detailed accounting of her finances. Therefore, I found it odd that upon a number of recent visits I had noticed her mail stacked up. Not at her desk where it usually is, rather on the kitchen counter. Come to think of it, there has been mail stacked on her desk too. Hmm.
Such “hmms” should not be overlooked. They are out of the norm. They are changes in the status quo. Are they serious concerns? What do you think?
Signs for concern
This holiday, look around your folks’ home. Is the home well-organized? Is there quality food in the fridge? Is medication organized and being taken with regularity? Does the home look like it used to look?
The refrigerator/freezer provides great information about our loved ones. Spoiled and improperly stored food is not a good sign that proper attention is being given to diet/nutrition. Further, it may become harmful if eaten.
While the days of needing a full fridge may have passed since many of our parents may be cooking for only themselves and/or a spouse, the need for proper nutrition still exists. Make sure your loved ones have fresh and nutritious food. Prepackaged and frozen meals are not great choices for anyone. However, for seniors, the sugars, salts and saturated fats are particularly harmful.
One of the main causes for hospitalization among seniors is an inability to manage a complicated medication regimen. It is also a major cause for placement in an Assisted Living Facility (ALF) for frail older adults. Take notice of expired medications and medications-dispensing processes. Are medications well-organized, and if there are many, are they being placed in a weekly/daily pill-dispensing container?
Not every home is one that clean freak Felix Unger would tip his hat to. However, a home that is unkempt could be a sign for concern. Loose papers, mail and kitchen towels left near the stove is not safe — in any home. Scorched pots and pans may indicate forgetfulness when cooking food. Bathrooms that are disorganized, dirty and smelly should be concerning as too many accidents occur here. And the coup de grâce, how’s the car look? Are there dents and scratches that may not have been present at your last visit?
Next week, I will continue the topic of visiting your parents and loved ones for the holidays. I will also present some suggestions for broaching the subject of concern and respect for their independence.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Garfield and Pitkin counties. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.
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The family of Rosie Ferrin has worked to clean up and make safe again the old schoolhouse in downtown New Castle. Ferrin died this summer and had owned the building that included classrooms turned into apartments for years.