Holidays, anniversaries, and celebrations are particularly difficult times for older people. This is especially true for Christmas and Thanksgiving, two holidays that are particularly family-focused. If you’re not together, a visit, even a short one, on this special day, will be highly appreciated. It will also you give a unique insight into how your parent is really coming along since emotions will likely be running high. If you won’t be together, it’s a great time to make a call, being careful to find a time when you can devote yourself exclusively to your parent. It is different than other calls at other times so be aware of that.

But for most families, holidays are when the family gathers together. And often it’s at the parents’ home. As your parents age, there’ll likely come a time when the site of this gathering shifts. Your parent may no longer be able to handle the chores involved, which means they are no longer the chief cook or host. This can be seen as a loss of status, especially in families where there is competition. Before changing the venue, talk to your parents and explain the facts (your house is larger, more centrally located, easier for everyone to get to, etc.) and your needs (too much work for your parents, too much worry for you, etc.). You may find that parents want the site to change because of the same reasons, but don’t want to say so. And sometimes they may not even want to go to a family gathering but cannot say so.

Important: if a decision has already been made, whether about where to have the family gathering, or any other decision for that matter, don’t pretend the decision has not been made.

When you’re there, this is your opportunity to really pay attention to what your parent is going through. If you’re at her home, it’s a great time to be a snoop, of sorts. You can check out the pantry to see how well stocked it is. Even though it’s the holiday, you should be able to judge how well she shops when the family is not there. It’s also a great time to help Mom fill her shelves with things she needs. When you go shopping for the big holiday meal, bring her along – assuming she can and wants to go – and go down all the aisles with her. Make it an outing and get her involved with the shopping. Then be sure to get not only the groceries needed for the meal, but also the things she’ll need after you’ve all gone home.

A word of caution here: with all the emotion around holidays, you need to do everything you can to be supportive, patient, and non-confrontational. The best way to do so, I have found, is to focus on the details. Try to be as organized as you can., and that alone will help reduce the stress.

At an AARP-sponsored forum on the challenges of family caregiving a recurring theme was the discrepancy between the huge numbers of people currently providing care to seniors and disabled persons versus the invisibility of them. How could it be that in the neighborhood of 50 million people who provide daily care to loved ones go unnoticed by corporations and government policy makers? Yet when we look at the policies at most employers, there is little support for caregivers. Most don’t permit flexible schedules for caregivers; they don’t allow parents to be on health care plans, and they don’t provide support groups for employees who are active caregivers.
What we need in this country is an “Occupy Eldercare” movement.

We need for these caregivers to speak out and change government and corporate rules and regulations. We need hospitals to pay greater attention to the needs of the caregivers, not just to the patients. We need for caregivers to be a part of the patient’s health record so they can know about and be prepared for the care needed. We need for hospitals to provide greater assistance to patients about to be released. Most aging is slow, more a chronic-type condition rather than acute. Yet our medical insurance system does not cover this type of care. We need our society to provide more financial options to people who need care, not just to those who need medical care.

Planning ahead for the coming problems is always an important way to minimize the impact of the problem. When you feel you have everything organized you tend to feel less stress. Yet we don’t seem to provide much help to our citizens until the crisis occurs. By then it’s often too late. What are you supposed to do when the hospital discharge person (sometimes called the “bouncer”) announces to you that your mother is going to be released from the hospital tomorrow and you know you don’t have the support system set up to provide the care she needs? We need greater educational resources and we need it early on.

We need for caregivers to not be invisible. Yes, we need an Occupy Eldercare movement. Want to join? Visit my Facebook page and “like” my eldercare posting. Then let’s see how many of you come out of the closet and start changing the world.