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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Traditions: Really Check in With Your Neighbors and Relatives

On Friday night, we gathered with neighbors old and new to celebrate a cherished tradition – our annual progressive dinner.  Traditionally, we begin the year.  We find out about the new babies, weddings and graduations to come.  We learn what colleges the children will attend, and where soon-to-be college graduates will start their careers.  We also check in on aging neighbors to find out about their health scares, their difficulties, the loss of their loved ones.  After moving from house to house for salads, and main courses, we end up with more wine and sweet treats to reminisce about dinners past.  How many have we had?  No one can remember.  But by the end of the evening, we’re looking forward to next year’s dinner, and assigning tasks to make it happen.

Continuing this tradition is important to my family and my neighborhood because it allows us to connect with our neighbors, to get to know them when times are good so that we can help each other when times are not so good.  Without our traditional yearly gathering, we might not realize when our neighbors need our help.

In my practice, I see many people who see their aging or ill family members and friends at the holidays and realize that all is not well.  Sometimes, all has not been well for so long that those family members are now in crisis.

If you are visiting family members who are aging or ill, take the time to talk with them to find out about their health.  Are they seeing a doctor?  What medications are they taking?  How do they keep track of their medications on a daily basis?  Ask them if they have a healthcare proxy or advance directive for healthcare?  Who will make healthcare decisions for them if they are not able?

Although it can be difficult to have a conversation with parents about their finances, ask them if they have appointed someone to make financial decisions for them if they are not able.  Look around the house and see if there are stacks of unopened bills.  Find out if they have long-term care insurance.  Ask where their important financial and legal documents can be found.  If they haven’t appointed anyone to make decisions for them, urge them to do that while they still can.

If your aging family members are still driving, ride with them to see if they are still able to drive safely.  Are they stopping at the stop signs?  Do they forget to look before making a turn?  Do they still remember how to get to places they have been to many times before or do they forget where they are going?  If they are having trouble driving, would a driving school help?  Or, can you help them find transportation so they won’t need to drive anymore?

With married couples, try to talk with each one alone.  Sometimes couples get so good at covering for each other, you don’t realize that one of them might be suffering from dementia.  If one of the couple is ailing, find out how the well spouse is coping.  Is he or she eating and sleeping right?  Is he or she getting help in the home so he or she can get out to see friends, or just get some time to rest and recharge?

Look in the refrigerator, freezer and cupboard.  Is the food in the refrigerator or cupboards moldy or out of date?  Are they going to the grocery store on a regular basis?  If you suspect that they are not eating right, is there a meals-on-wheels program that they might qualify for?

I hope that you will enjoy holiday traditions with family, friends, and neighbors this year.  Will you take time to talk with your family and friends to see whether they might need help in the coming year?

Happy Holidays!

Patti Elrod-Hill

 

 

 

 


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