MetroWest CARES — the Committee Addressing Resources for Eldercare Services — is coordinated by United Jewish Communities with support from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey; CARES brings together professionals and lay leaders from MetroWest agencies that provide services to older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency presents an educational column on an eldercare issue. This month’s article, on addressing the changing needs of aging relatives, is presented by Jewish Family Service of Metro West.
Holidays remind us of what we value and help reinforce cherished traditions. Passover in particular is a time for food and family and remembering how close we were to being lost as a people. We come together to celebrate our triumph over slavery, as well as our enduring bonds. For many people, this will mean getting together with parents or older relatives who may not live nearby. During the Passover visit, we may notice changes in how older relatives or loved ones are faring that may be cause for concern.
In some cases, many months may have gone by since our last visit, and changes to the older adult’s physical and mental states may be obvious. This can provide an opportunity to assess and step in if needed. But what should we look for?
Some signs that an older loved one may need help include:
- Change in weight and/or eating habits
- Short-term memory loss or confusion
- Recent falls or signs of a fall (bruises)
- Change in personal hygiene
- A home in disarray or starting to look cluttered or dirty
- Difficulty preparing their own meals or doing their own grocery shopping
- Difficulty keeping up with medications
- Unpaid bills, unopened mail
These signs may be evidence that you should explore with your parent or older loved one how they are doing and see if assistance might be helpful or needed. While asking for help may not be easy for the older adult, some individuals may welcome it, as it can help them stay healthier longer, remain independent, and improve their quality of life.
Others may be reluctant, as adult children may be uncomfortable facing their parents’ changing needs and assuming the responsibility of a new and potentially demanding role as a caregiver.
The most important first step is to begin the conversation. Here are some tips:
- Set an agenda for the discussion. Establish several issues that need to be talked about, such as health, homecare, and household chores.
- Ask open-ended questions. Phrase your concerns as questions to allow your older adult to express his or her concerns and preferences. Learn about the plans he or she may have already made.
- Listen non-judgmentally, acknowledging your parent’s or loved one’s feelings and preferences, even if you do not agree with their conclusions.
- Be patient. Don’t be disappointed if decisions aren’t made in the first discussion. Frequently, change takes time. Stay with your concerns, however, and consider a thorough medical exam as a place to begin, ideally with a geriatrician, a doctor who specializes in treating older people. If symptoms of depression are present (sadness, loss of pleasure, changes in sleeping and/or eating), remember that depression is treatable and not a normal part of aging.
Finally, know that help is out there. For broad eldercare questions and to help identify general community resources, visit the new Elderlink website developed by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest at www.elderlinkmetrowest.org.
For further guidance or an objective opinion, JFS is available. We consult with adult children about resources and options available in the community and work with families to create a long-term plan, balancing issues of aging and maintaining independence and well-being.
Families and caregivers needing help with specific questions can contact Elderlink at JFS — a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families — at 973-765-9050, ext. 1740, or firstname.lastname@example.org.